Golfer reflects on struggles of LGBTQ athletes

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It was National Coming Out Day Oct. 11, 2014. Occidental golfer William Mansfield (first year), stared at his laptop screen, nervous but determined. His eyes scanned over the post he was about to make public to all of his Facebook friends.

“It is National Coming Out Day today, so I have something to tell all of you wonderful friends: I am bisexual,” Mansfield wrote. “It is an exciting thing to say but a scary thing to say as well. I just finally realized that I need to be more true to myself. Thank you to everyone who has been supportive.”

After coming out on Facebook, Mansfield wrote an article about his experience for Outsports, a website dedicated to sharing stories of LGBTQ athletes. According to Mansfield, he came out in such a public fashion to offer his story as a possible source of strength for others.

“I’d like to think every time I read another article [about an athlete coming out], I helped at least a little bit in inspiring that person to come out,” Mansfield said.

Fast forward to 2016. Mansfield is in his second semester at Occidental. Looking back, coming out was a relief, but also a period of growth and self-realization.

“[Coming out] is a hard part of the process, and it’s a very long road to self acceptance,” Mansfield said. “It can be a struggle. But when I came out there was this emotional weight that had been lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even know existed.”

Mansfield’s participation in baseball and golf presents an additional set of obstacles to his struggle. While the golf course has generally been a homophobia-free zone for Mansfield, he regularly heard bigoted and homophobic language on the baseball diamond when he played the sport in high school. He also recognizes that the sports world in general has not been kind to LGBTQ athletes, and the professional sports community, in particular, has not created an environment where LGBTQ athletes can succeed.

In fact, according to Outsports, homophobia has shortened the careers of many LGBTQ athletes. Football player Michael Sam came out in the months leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, leading to a significant drop in his draft projection. Sam never made it to a regular season roster, despite the fact that 90 percent of players with Sam’s preseason numbers were given roster spots. Tyler Dunnington, a 28th-round pick in the 2014 MLB draft quit baseball because of the prevalence of homophobia on and off the field. Despite being professional caliber athletes, these two men are unable to continue their life’s work because of their sexuality. The world of sports purports to operate off of merit alone, but in reality, discrimination based on identity abounds.

While the struggles of LGBTQ professional athletes are beginning to enter into mainstream media and discussion, the experiences of LGBTQ student athletes at Occidental continue to exist outside of the limelight. Mansfield is cognizant of the hardships facing professional LGBTQ athletes, but he is unable to speak about the experiences of other LGBTQ student athletes at Occidental.

“In the big three of sports, [football, basketball and baseball], homophobia is still pretty prevalent,” Mansfield said. “Here at Occidental, I know a fair amount of other LGBT people, but not that many other athletes though.”

Mansfield feels that Occidental has been an accepting environment for LGBTQ students, but his lack of interaction with other LGBTQ student-athletes suggests the absence of a community for LGBTQ student athletes at Occidental.

Despite this uncertainty, Mansfield feels nothing but support from his teammates.

“I expected nothing less, but it is amazing to know [my teammates] have my back and are supportive of me,” Mansfield said.

Mansfield’s teammate Colton Bares (junior) explained that Mansfield’s sexuality never occurred to the team as something that required addressing.

“We knew about his [sexuality] before he came to school,” Bares said. “But I think the support that we’ve given Will has been super unconscious. [As teammates], we haven’t really thought about it.”

While Mansfield feels supported by his teammates’ acceptance of his sexuality, not all LGBTQ athletes have that support. Mansfield acknowledges that his intersection of white male privilege and bisexuality affects his experiences on and off the golf course and is not necessarily indicative of all LGBTQ student athlete narratives.

“I do identify as male, and there is definitely more difficulty for transgender people in the sports world and in general,” Mansfield said. “Look at people like UFC fighter Fallon Fox; the adversity she has had to deal with is much greater than anything I have had to deal with.”

Mansfield feels comfortable as the only bisexual golfer at Occidental, but he also recognizes the importance of building community with other LGBTQ athletes. Mansfield recognizes the benefits of coordinated support, saying that it leads to more acceptance and visibility.

Mansfield points to Outsports as a prime example of athletic LGBTQ solidarity. By placing a particular emphasis on coming out, Outsports has provided a forum for LGBTQ athletes to talk about the world of sports through their eyes. Mansfield shares a similar view on coming out and urges other LGBTQ athletes to come out in solidarity.

“It’s kind of cliché to say, but part of coming out is that you have to realize that after you come out, it gets better,” Mansfield said. “If you’re on the fence about coming out, knowing that it’s going to get better and that you will be happier because of it is definitely worth making that decision.”