Perception Versus Reality: Gay Male American Athletes and Coming-out Stories from

  • Luis Morales
  • Adam J. White


The experiences of young, gay athletes have been widely studied by academics looking to understand the intersection of sport and sexualities. A plethora of research over the last 30 years has documented how sport has largely transitioned into an inclusive culture for gay athletes. This chapter research uses 60 published autobiographical accounts of the personal coming-out experience of male (mostly student) athletes and trainers from—a resource and online support system for gay athletes.

Before coming out, these athletes experienced significant psychological stressors as a result of being “in the closet.” Further, they perceived sport to be homophobic and heterosexist, contributing to those psychological stressors. These experiences were often, but not uniformly, compounded by geographical location and the impression of religious life within the athletes’ communities. Many of these athletes’ pre-coming-out experiences contributed to their understanding that an ideal athlete should conform to a role predicated on masculine stereotypes and heteronormativity.

While narratives of negative experiences in the closet are valid reflections of heteronormativity and the marginalization of gay individuals, these data suggest that coming-out itself is often a transformative, positive experience. In these data, positive coming-out experiences directly contradict the athletes’ negative expectations and fears before coming out. Thus, we present empirical evidence for gay male athletes misinterpreting the sport cultures in which they were to come out as being unaccepting, while their experiences out of the closet are characterized by acceptance and positivity.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luis Morales
    • 1
  • Adam J. White
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Sport, Exercise and HealthUniversity of WinchesterWinchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social WorkOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK

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