The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Homophobia conquers center court

Along with the military, sports is one of the last bastions of institutionalized homophobia in this country. Consequently, the sports closet is deep and dark.

Who hasn’t heard rumors about an athlete’s sexuality?

For years, rumors have circulated that Troy Aikman is (was) gay. In 1996, sports journalist Skip Bayless broke the code of silence about Aikman’s sexuality in his book Hell-Bent; The Inside Story of a ‘Win or Else’ Dallas Cowboy Season. Bayless’ outing of Aikman put a wrinkle in the usual argument that rumors were the invention of gay men who fantasized about having sex with the Cowboys quarterback.

It’s true that gays had been speculating about Aikman’s sexuality for years. Go to any gay bar in Dallas, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a gay man who doesn’t have an opinion on the rumor.

Bayless, a veteran sports commentator, however, isn’t gay and had no apparent motive for outing Aikman. Many have said Bayless was merely saying in print what lots of people had been saying around the office water cooler for a long time.

But Bayless is not the only straight man in sports to speculate about Aikman’s sexuality. David Kopay, a NFL player who came out in the seventies, made numerous public comments about Aikman’s sexuality. And in 2007, Redskin’s wide receiver Brandon Lloyd all but outed Aikman on a Washington D.C. radio sports show. Following Lloyd’s comment, one of the hosts added, “I always knew he was queer.”

Tell me there isn’t homophobia in sports.

If Aikman is (was) gay, he wouldn’t be the first gay man to get married. Maybe Aikman wanted a family. Maybe he was tired of the rumors. Maybe Aikman, who has always been religious, was tired of wrestling with his gay demons. Maybe he’s not gay. Maybe we’ll never know.

The truth is it shouldn’t matter. But it does.

In an earlier column, I wrote about a college friend’s struggle to come out and his closeted relationship with a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies. After being offered a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, his boyfriend opted to marry a girl he had dated in high school. He’s still married today and, like Troy Aikman, a happy father.

Who says sexuality isn’t complicated?

We do know, however, from the players who have found the courage to come out, that professional athletics continues to be homophobic. Esera Tuaolo, a defensive lineman at Oregon State, and later for the Packers, Vikings, and Falcons, has spoken openly about his experiences as a closeted athlete in the NFL.

In his book “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL,” Tuaolo writes about being gay and in the closet, going so far as to compare the NFL’s attitude toward gays to the military’s “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy.

Admittedly, the number of athletes who have come out of the closet is small – at least in the more “manly” sports. There’s NBA player John Amaechi, baseball outfielder Billy Bean, and Oakland A’s outfielder Glenn Burke. (A quick Google search will provide the names of others.) That doesn’t mean, however, that the number of gay (closeted) athletes is small.

Women’s sports are, to some extent, a different matter. From Billy Jean King to Martina Navratilova, women athletes find coming out of the closet to be (relatively) easier than their male counterparts do. The number of lesbians in women’s golf and basketball has become a favorite punch line for late-night comedians. In the last few years, no fewer than four female basketball players have come out: Sheryl Swoopes, Michele Van Gorp, Latasha Byears, and Sue Wicks.

To deny that the perniciousness of the sports closet hasn’t effected SMU would be naive. A lawsuit filed by former SMU women’s basketball player Jennifer Colli alleges that SMU head women’s basketball coach Rhonda Rampola and SMU retaliated against her by revoking her scholarship after Colli complained about comments that Rampola made regarding the player’s sexuality.

Ironically, rumors about Rampola’s sexuality have become a matter of public record as a result of Colli’s $2 million lawsuit. In sworn depositions, four of Colli’s teammates have stated that they were “aware of the fact that Coach Rompola had long term relations with a specific female SMU assistant coach.”

Rompola, a former player and 1983 graduate of SMU, married former SMU men’s basketball coach Mike Dement last year. Dement now coaches at UNC Greensboro. Considering her long association with SMU, it would be reasonable to assume that SMU might have a vested interest in protecting Rampola.

Before anyone rushes to criticize me for giving credibility to rumors, let me say that you’re missing the point. The error lies, not in questioning another person’s sexuality, but rather in stigmatizing homosexuality to the point that gays fear rejection and retaliation if they discuss their sexuality openly.

And to those who argue that sexuality is a “private” matter or those whose response is “why do ‘they’ have to shove their sexuality down people’s throats?” let me say this: Straight people discuss their sexuality endlessly. Even seemingly innocuous statements like “my husband and I went to the movies last night” or “my daughter’s getting married” are bound up in the speakers’ sexuality. Gay people aren’t afforded that luxury. And when they demand it, they are discriminated against.

To her credit, Colli acknowledges having had a relationship with another player. But, she insists, whom she slept with was no one else’s business. Unfortunately, Rampola didn’t agree. If Rampola discussed sex with Colli — or any other student, gay or straight — she crossed the line.

It’s up to a jury to decide whether Rampola retaliated against Colli because Colli is a lesbian or because Rampola feared a sexual relationship with a subordinate might be made public.

Then there’s the question of whether SMU colluded with Rampola, a valued member of the SMU community, to cover it up.

George Henson is a lecturer of foreign languages and literatures. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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