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Why Pro-Athletes Should Support LGBT Rights

05/05/2015 10:39 am ET | Updated May 05, 2016

(Author's notes: I expressed my preference for Pacquiao over Mayweather as a source of inspiration to boxing fans and struggling people alike in a previous article. I stand by my opinion, despite his stance against same-sex marriage and the reproductive health law, that Pacquiao is a better source of inspiration for struggling people in spite of this. He is a good example to follow for the underprivileged given his humble beginnings and his commitment to giving back to the community through championing advocacies such as the Anti-Human Trafficking Bill and House Bill 61 -- for the establishment of breast cancer centers -- the former became a law in 2013. While Mayweather may have put up his "Money" persona and history of actual human rights violations -- such as his domestic abuse cases -- does not at all jibe with his charitable efforts. These boxers are public personalities and how they conduct themselves does matter.)

A different battle raged on social media amidst last Saturday's Mayweather-Pacquiao fight as Twitter exploded with a series of homophobic slurs. Fans of either boxers took to the site to express their opinions about Floyd Jr.'s dodging tactics and Manny's aggressive approach. Viewers exchanged quips of "Gayweather" and "MANny" in an effort to influence people's perception of the two competitors by painting a picture of homosexuality as undesirable, equating it with cowardice.

Spectators made several comments on my previous article misconstruing my remarks about Pacquiao's offense-oriented style. I opined that Pacman's method resonated more with fans because of the combative nature of the sport. Boxing is a full-contact sport and we want boxers to visibly make contact and engage. By no means was I suggesting that Mayweather was gay for not having done so. And yet the subject of homosexuality was injected into the picture. The reason behind this is sports has historically been identified with men and masculinity. The advent of female athletes is fairly recent and men have had a monopoly over the industry for the longest time. Given this, men were able to exclusively shape sports and, inversely, sports was able to shape men. This is perhaps why our ideas of masculinity, of what a man should be like mostly come from sports. A man should take control, be aggressive, be competitive. These traits have been so identified with men that we typically attribute them to the more general quality of masculinity. Anyone who possesses these traits is surely a man. And those who are devoid of these isn't.

Another quality conventionally attributed to men is heterosexuality. Sure sports originated from the Greeks who were accepting of homosexuality, but as the centuries went by, the idea of man was that of one who liked women and no one else. And so athletes, who were then all male, also had to be straight by virtue of their sex. As female athletes came into the picture, those who participated in the more traditionally masculine sports -- such as basketball, American football, combat sports -- came to be seen as butches regardless of their actual sexual orientation. This is where the stigma from being a gay or lesbian athlete comes from. Esera Tuaolo, a former NFL star, is a testament to this. In a 2014 interview, Tuaolo commented on the decision of Michael Sam, college football player, to come out

I'd rather have what he's gonna get other than the things that I went through [...] Now [players and coaches are] held accountable for their actions and for their words [...] If it was like that when I was playing, yeah, maybe I would've felt comfortable coming out, if I felt like I had the support [...I] did not feel safe at all [...]It was so hard...being in that masculine environment. The secret killed me.

This ultra-masculine atmosphere of sports mentioned above is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is the bastion of the backward notion of masculinity, the safe haven for the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. On the other hand it is the ideal venue for the espousal of LGBT rights. The same industry that had once reinforced the rigid views on gender can also be the catalyst for change by dismantling and the institutions that seek to discriminate against LGBTs and introducing reforms in favor of their rights. Further sanction actively homophobic players and coaches, promote LGBT rights in events. And for the individual superstars of each sport, if they are part of the LGBT community, they should come out as long as they're comfortable enough to do so. Much inspiration will come from this. The heterosexual athletes can also help the community by voicing out their support for them and their rights.

Drastic change will come from the advocacy of these influential men and women. The people who experience the dictates of a misguided tradition should be the driving force behind its transformation. Simply by refusing to conform to any notion of what a man or a woman should be and who they should or should not like.

Unfortunately, many professional athletes are still against the community's rights. Mayweather and Pacquiao themselves, the two subjects of stereotyping last Saturday, have both indirectly and explicitly expressed their stance against them. Although Mayweather proclaimed his support for same-sex marriage, he had done so conveniently just a few hours after his rival Pacquiao expressed his own disapproval on the controversial issue -- at a time when the "Fight of the Century" was still in the works and gradually being hyped. Floyd Jr. was also guilty of uttering the word "faggot" several times to different people including his own father, radio host Rude Jude, and the Pacman -- taking away the sincerity of his support.

Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, has been quoted as saying: "God only expects man and woman to be together and to be legally married."

However, the number of athletes coming out have increased over the years, providing much inspiration for the LGBT community. A website called outsports.com features several amateur and professional athletes who have done exactly this. Plenty of straight athletes, over the years, have also expressed their support for the community's rights as can be seen here in this article.

The sports industry had been a breeding ground for the misguided, conservative mentality regarding gender and sexual orientation. Over the years it has gradually transformed its traditions in order to give way to their athletes' rights against any homophobic discrimination

The time has come for a more drastic move to support LGBTs as the industry, hopefully, learns to understand and take advantage of the important role they play in this revolution.