Protecting the (White Male) Gaze: Homophobia of Sports Talk Radio Goes Unchallenged
by David C. Leonard | NewBlackMan
During his ESPN show on Tuesday, Bruce Jacobs described the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury as “the “Los Angeles Lesbians” and the “Phoenix Dyke-ury.” He returned to the air the following day to offer the following “apology”: “My comments yesterday were ridiculous, stupid and amateurish. I apologize for even uttering the comments, whether you heard them or not, whether you were offended or not.”
To date, little has been made about either his comments or his half-hearted apology that neither apologizes for the spirit of his remarks nor the ideological underpinnings that led to such comments. His apology does not repudiate his own homophobic stereotypes nor does it challenge the ideological assumptions evident here, but instead apologizes for vocalizing them. It isn’t the homophobia that warrants the apology, but expressing it on his show.
While Mr. Jacobs needs to be held accountable for his remarks, along with ESPN, which has failed to publicly condemn the comments, it would be a mistake to isolate this rhetoric as that of a “bad apple.” The homophobia and sexism on display here is reflective of sport talks radio. As with talk radio in general, sports talk radio emerged as a movement to “restore” the hegemony of white male heterosexism. The homophobic remarks of Bruce Jacobs represents a systemic and longstanding effort to restore the normalized vision of sports as a space of male dominance.
Like the efforts to sexualize female athletes, the construction of female athletes as lesbians reaffirms the “normalcy” of sports as a male domain. According to David Nylund (2004), “With White male masculinity being challenged and decentered by feminism, affirmative action, gay and lesbian movements, and other groups’ quest for social equality, sports talk shows, similar to talk radio in general, have become an attractive venue for embattled White men seeking recreational repose and a nostalgic return to a prefeminist ideal.” As argued by Trujillo (1994) and quoted in Nylund:
Media coverage of sports reinforces traditional masculinity in at least three ways. It privileges the masculine over the feminine or homosexual image by linking it to a sense of positive cultural values. It depicts the masculine image as “natural” or conventional, while showing alternative images as unconventional or deviant. And it personalizes traditional masculinity by elevating its representatives to places of heroism and denigrating strong females or homosexuals. (p. 97)
His comments, thus, embody the efforts to silence, surveil, demonize, and ultimately discipline and punish any challenges to the white male heterosexuality of sporting cultures. Those perceived threats to this hegemony are met with efforts to reclaim the sporting space as one of masculinity. From the ubiquity of images of hypersexual female athletes on various sports websites to the commonality of homophobic, sexist, and racist rhetoric, we see that despite the increased levels of diversity, the hegemony of white male heterosexuality remains a central facet within to contemporary sports culture.
The relative silence about this instance of homophobia (as of writing there has been only 9 articles about Jacobs’ comments) and the culture of homophobia within the sports media is especially telling given the widespread condemnation of various players for homophobic slurs during the 2011. Others may cite the varied levels of celebrity and the divergent platforms as reasons for why the comments of Kobe Bryant, Joakim Noah, and Wayne Simmonds received ample media attention. Yet, the comparative silence here reflects a level of comfort in isolating homophobia as a symptom of athlete culture, hip-hop culture and blackness.
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