The last issue of The Crow’s Nest featured an article about Manny Ramirez, the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder who was forced to serve a 50 game suspension for illicit use of a hormone typically given to women. The article, “Now Batting: Mandy Ramirez,” satirically claims that “a recent physical exam has indicated that the drug will turn Ramirez into a female at some point in the next few months.” Though Ramirez is not transgender, the article is wrought with transphobic jokes. These ill-conceived jokes – very possibly unintentional – deride the transgender community and undermine the fundamental principles of respect and courtesy at the heart of athletics.
Sports have come a long way since Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Billy Jean King won the epic “Battle of the Sexes.” Nonetheless, biases against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes continue to be endemic in the extended athletic community. For example, no NFL, NBA or MLB player has felt the freedom to publically identify as gay or bisexual during his career. Negative recruiting tactics have been reported on some women’s college teams, where coaches allegedly urge prospective athletes to avoid teams rumored to have players who are lesbians. Furthermore, transgender athletes face tremendous obstacles when seeking to compete with persons of their gender, often being forbidden to compete or forced to stop their transitions.
Despite these profound inequities, many athletes, coaches, parents, sports journalists, fans and other participants oppose homophobia and transphobia in sports. The nature of athletics cultivates people – LGBT and straight – who value diversity, camaraderie and dignity. Every time we step into an arena or onto a playing field we have an opportunity to pursue victory through unity, and, by doing so with attention to the harms of anti-LGBT attitudes, we will leave those prejudices and inequities behind.
As a heterosexual Division I college coach and competing athlete, I am compelled to respond to The Crow’s Nest article – not because I can’t take a joke, but because these jokes are damaging and present an important moment for the sports community to think critically about our words and actions and to move forward in strength.
Hudson Taylor is a wrestling coach at Columbia University, a competitive athlete and founder of Athlete Ally, a sports nonprofit to combat homophobia and transphobia.