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6:01pm on Tuesday, 3rd December, 2013:

Better Out than In


The news coverage regarding Tom Daley's announcement that he's dating a man has been rather weird. It seems to focus on three main points:

1) That he's brave for coming out.
Well yes, but we already know he's brave. He jumps off a 10m-high board into a pool while spinning and twisting and turning. He could break his neck. Of course he's brave — being brave is part of his job specification!

2) That there are many non-heterosexual people in sport who haven't come out.
This is undoubtedly true, but it's the way they use the figures that I'd like to question. Usually they take some fraction (3% in the BBC's case) that estimates what proportion of the general population is gay, then they apply it to some occupation that claims suspiciously few gay participants (in a sports context, this is usually men playing soccer), then they estimate how many people who pursue that occupation must be in the closet. This fails to take into account that some occupations seem to be more or less attractive to gay people than others. There are many top-ranking female tennis players who are out, for example — certainly more than 3%. I don't know why this is the case, but, its being the case, there should be a caveat attached to the use of population-wide figures applied to sub-populations. After all, around 51% of the population is female, but that doesn't mean half the players of the Premier League are secretly female.

3) That this shouldn't be news.
The media seem to be quite self-reflective in wondering why they're reporting the news that Tom Daley is gay (actually, from his own account, bisexual is probably the more accurate term). Why is it news that he's said he's dating a man? It wouldn't be news if he'd said he was dating a girl. Hmm, well I agree with them that it's not news that he's dating a man, but that's primarily because most of the population has assumed for years that he's gay. It's no surprise at all that it turns out he is.

It would be great if we saw a wave of other sports people come out as a result of this — even if they did so for safety-in-numbers reasons. It would be especially good if an England football player were among them: that way, we could get rid of the dreadful term WAG for "wives and girlfriends" that's used to reduce partners to stereotypes every World Cup...

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).