Out of Bounds

Members of the school community reflect on their experiences with toxic masculinity in male athletics.

Out of Bounds

As Jack Shane ’19 frantically ran into baseball practice, he felt the judgmental gazes of his teammates upon him. Late from dropping off his girlfriend, he rushed to apologize, only to be met with taunts from his friends

“That’s gay,” they said. 

For Shane, these words represented the normalization of homophobic slurs and the negative connotations associated with the word ‘gay’ 

People always joked that I was gay because most of my friends were girls,” Shane said. “I had to be gay

Shane is not the only student to express his frustrations with the toxic masculinity present in the school’s male athletic programs. 

Alumni takes to social media to address alleged homophobic behavior

Sarah Reiff ’20 recently sparked dialogue by referencing a football team group chat called ‘Gay Group chat’

Head of Athletics Terry Barnum said the administration

Football player Viswa Douglass ’21, who identifies as bisexual, said the group chat was not a homophobic forum, despite its misleading name.

“[It was named that because] there was a meme that happened last year where, before games for good luck, we would hit on each other and compliment

Current students share contrasting experiences to alumni on sports teams

Furthermore, Douglass said the football team has created an L.G.B.T.Q. 

“I think there has always been an understanding within the football team that homophobia isn’t right,” Douglass said. “[Have I heard] the ‘f’ slur? Never. ‘Gay’ has been used a few times, but every time that it was used either I or someone else said ‘this isn’t right, this isn’t acceptable behavior.’”

Unlike Douglass, former football player Loyal Terry ’19 said that despite improvement through the years, aspects of homophobia were present during his time on the team.

“To be blunt, when I first arrived [on the team], that language occurred often, but by the time I left it was not as acceptable,” Terry said. “Some people would still use that type of language, and I am confident that in certain groups that language persisted.”

Students react to news of existence of group chat, opening up larger conversation about homophobia

To queer student Audrey Perkins ’23, the group chat is representative of a larger culture of homophobia within male athletics.

“I’m sad to say that I wasn’t actually that surprised by the football group chat and what has been [allegedly] said in it,” Perkins said. “

According to the American Psychiatric Association, L.G.B.T.Q. individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience substance abuse, anxiety 

Like Perkins, queer male athlete Steve* said his coming out experience was delayed by the casual, normalized homophobia he experienced in locker room and team environments.

“Not everybody comes from the same places and a lot of people can’t understand each other’s points of view on the team,” Steve said. “

Other displays of toxic masculinity persevere on teams

In boys athletic programs, Shane said toxic masculinity is perpetuated beyond homophobia with misogynistic comments and an overall sexist attitude. Shane said he 

“It happened so much that it almost became this big mush of things where you can’t remember the exact times you heard each one,” Shane said. “It just feels like everything was involved some way in misogyny and objectification.”

Terry said he felt that this misogyny was not exclusive to male athletics

“This occurred in almost every sphere of life at Harvard-Westlake,” Terry said. “Boys and girls would do this, and while it is more destructive in many instances with boys objectifying women, everyone did it. I at least knew plenty of people who did it in their ‘safe’ spaces.”

However, according to Shane, the most prominent aspect of toxic masculinity in male athletics was the suppression of male emotion.

“There’s this famous quote from Tom Hanks that says there’s no crying in baseball,” Shane said. “I was always taught that from a young age, to not show that kind of emotion. When you suppress your emotions for so long and you don’t even talk about them or feel them, you are bound to eventually become aggressive with them.”

In the sports program, Shane said efficiency and athletic achievements were prioritized over athletes’ mental health, and students were taught and encouraged to put the team’s success before themselves.

“It got to the point where you can’t really admit that you couldn’t beat something, whether it be school or stress or sickness,” Shane said. “You had to constantly be the one winning.”

Since his departure from the school, Shane said he has been able to prioritize his mental health in a way he never knew possible.

“I didn’t even know therapy existed until I got to college,” Shane said. “A lot of our view on therapy in high school was that therapy means something is wrong with you and you have an issue, not that therapy is just another tool in the bucket to help you fight whatever you are going through.”

Students and faculty call for empathy and change

Barnum said he believes student-athletes are reluctant to come forward not only because of the prevalence of hyper-masculinity but also because of the possible social consequences.

“I think that there might be some students that fear going forward because if you go to an adult, an adult is going to do something about it, and that might come at a social cost for the student,” Barnum said.

Perkins said that because toxic masculinity is so deeply ingrained within society, she feels that students have the ultimate ability to dismantle hyper-masculine standards 

“I know some people think that our school can fix these issues, but I don’t think that it can, at least not with the current approach that it has,” Perkins said. “Homophobia and heteronormativity are too ingrained in our society as a whole for a claim of no tolerance and a stand during [International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia] to really reach these people.”

Barnum said the school 

“We are working with adolescents, and teenagers at times make mistakes,” Barnum said. “So our job is, 

*names have been changed

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