“Being part of a team is one of the best feelings you can have,” champion racer Danny Watts writes in an op-ed for the Guardian. The flip side, Watts says, is when you have to hide who you are from the very team that supports you.
Although homophobia is more closely associated with sports like football, even Danny’s own sport, racing—or “motor sport,” as the British driver puts it—exists in an exclusionary macho bubble. And by Danny’s own admission, he was very good at hiding his sexuality.
“I was good at hiding it,” he said in an interview with FourTwoNine. Even on raucous nights out with teammates and sponsors from Dubai, Singapore, or Japan, he played the part of straight male to perfection.
“I’m a man’s man anyways,” he added. “If you met me on the street you’d think I was the straightest bloke you ever met. But there were some very, very dark times. After races, everyone goes out clubbing and picking up women. I couldn’t tell anyone that I wanted a man to hold me, rather than a woman to chase.”
Before coming out earlier this year, “I was terrified of people finding out”—and not without cause. The very reason for the absence of visible LGBT athletes, according Danny, is that “they hear the abuse, or ‘banter’.”
For gay competitors like Danny, they take away a clear message: “people like you are not welcome.”
The solutions need to go deeper than posturing by sponsors and governing bodies. The rejection of gay athletes happens on the level of day-to-day interactions in the locker room and on the field: “For chief executives to say ‘I accept anyone for who they are’ is all well and good – but does their sport? Does its locker-room culture make everyone feel welcome? Do its fans welcome everyone? If they don’t, then a chief executive’s personal opinion isn’t really relevant.”
Danny admits that the sports world has made progress, as evidenced by his own coming-out. Still, though, the race is far from over. “We still have a way to go to ensure that all LGBT people can fully participate in sport,” he concludes, adding: “I don’t want another driver to go through what I had to. I want sport to be somewhere that you can be your best, not somewhere you have to hide who you are.
Read Danny’s entire op-ed here.