Our societal obsession with the personal lives and sexual preferences of entertainers has always been par for the course and something that many entertainers, I imagine, have come to expect and in many ways accept. Now this reckless fascination and speculation has bled into the world of sports and become a sport.
The recent relentless and insensitive speculation around the sexual orientation of athletes, specifically NFL players Aaron Rodgers, Kerry Rhodes, Manti Te'o and others, has created an environment where male athletes have joined a very select group of individuals who must answer questions around whom they choose to sleep with. How's that for "yardage gained"?
This newfound invasion into the personal lives of athletes is something that many never thought imaginable due the sexual prowess that is projected onto professional male athletes. On the contrary, female athletes have always experienced the reverse of having to prove their "heterosexuality" due to our sexist and patriarchal society. For many years the personal questions that dogged professional male athletes were usually around the number of children fathered out of wedlock, or the number of DUIs, or more recently the number of instances of the "N" word dropped by a white teammate. (I kid.)
But now these invasive questions have a few uninvited guests. Now the questions and assumptions are most causal or accusatory in nature. You're over the age of 28, so why are you unmarried? Why are there no scandalous or nude pictures of you on the Internet? Why are you not a known womanizer or been arrested for domestic violence? And when these sorts of questions go unanswered, accompanied by reaching a certain level of fame, the speculation about your orientation is now required.
Now, maybe I'm extra sensitive because I am gay and chose to not disclose my sexuality throughout my entire playing career. And maybe it's because athletes, entertainers and the like truly relinquish all privacy when they choose to enter into public sphere, but I see their humanity and wish others did as well. Or maybe it's because the rock star status that athletes have has reached such heights that our obsession has extended past assumptions of heteronormativity.
Regardless of the reason, athletes deserve and need the spaces that are off limits, free from questions and speculation about why they wear pink or why they turned down an opportunity to appear as Beyoncé's love interest in a video. The answer is only truly relevant if offered in earnest by the individual, not supposition.
During an interview in 2013, friend and LGBT rights advocate Brendon Ayanbadejo unfortunately made a reference to the idea that a group of athletes were considering a joint disclosure regarding their sexual orientation. This was a fabrication, and Brendan has unsuccessfully tried to clear up the confusion. The truth is that the idea of a group of gay athletes standing in solidarity to disclose their sexuality sounds wonderful, but the misrepresentation about it happening has helped to further enhance the environment in which athletes are probed and monitored for anything that could raise eyebrows around their sexuality, especially if their personal life doesn't fit in our myopic understanding of what the life of a male athlete should look like.
I have been distraught sitting back watching athletes answer unnecessary and inappropriate questions around their sexuality due to our lack of true compassion, dignity and love for all. We now exist in a society where our own obsession with others trumps showing up for each other with the capacity to love and respect each other's personal lives, especially the personal lives of those who use their gifts and talents to entertain us.
Being an athlete, despite ideas to the contrary, is extremely difficult emotionally and mentally, beyond the visible physical challenges. Often the only people athletes can trust are their teammates and/or friends who they have known for many years. So it's only natural that many would live extremely private lives, almost to the point of being a recluse. And being private shouldn't always be read as having something to hide but maybe as a way to capture and create a refuge within the madness that means being a celebrity. And one's ability to dominate their sports should never eliminate or make invisible their humanness that is always ever-present, and their humanity that is deserving of respect, support and care.