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Are elite sportswomen changing
The word you’re looking for is ‘girlfriend’.” These few words by a Twitter user who was following the coverage of the 2017 AFLW Brownlow medal kicked off a social media storm. They accompanied a screenshot: a Fox Sports website journalist had captioned a photo of Collingwood full-forward Moana Hope on the red carpet with “her friend” Isabella Carlstrom.
The incredulity flew thick and fast, and questions were asked: was it a deliberate erasure of Hope and Carlstrom’s relationship? Or did Fox Sports just not know? If they didn’t know, why not just not have a descriptor? Why didn’t
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they ask? Were they fearful of outing an athlete?
Hope and Carlstrom had never hid their relationship, but they weren’t exactly out either. And they’re not the only sportswomen to walk this line. For some of these couples you need to read between the lines, or pick up on the subtle and not-so-subtle cues. For others, like Matildas star Chloe Logarzo and softball player Jasmine Peters, there’s no ambiguity. Their Instagram accounts leave nothing in doubt.
They are all part of a relatively recent phenomenon: elite sportswomen becoming more visible about being in same-sex relationships.
“There are still a few people scared that it is going to tarnish their image, but for me, if it was going to tarnish my image then it’s not the image I want because I’m not telling the truth,” says Logarzo.
For a time, these athletes’ relationships didn’t receive all that much mainstream media attention. To be in the know you really had to be a women’s sport fan and you had to be following these athletes on Instagram. Then came the federal government’s marriage equality postal survey, which threw the spotlight onto anyone in the public arena and in a same-sex relationship.
Soon after that came the “the kiss”: Adelaide Crows AFLW player Erin Phillips wins the league’s inaugural best and fairest award and at the ceremony is immediately congratulated by her wife, American retired professional basketball player Tracy Gahan, with a kiss. Media around the world erupts, with photographs and video of the moment being shared widely.
The issue of homophobia in sport is gaining more traction all the time. And rightly so, although most of the conversation up until now has been focused on male athletes and the desire – particularly within queer communities –
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to see them come out. While such conversations are important to have, they ignore the experiences of female athletes—experiences that are often completely different, more complicated, and come with their own set of challenges.
The lack of media coverage is the first and most obvious difficulty.
Even if you are out, no one knows because the media isn’t talking to you or even about you. How do you present yourself? It’s a question the majority of women ask themselves regularly, and it’s one game we can never win. You’re either deemed too sexy or not sexy enough. And you immediately wear that stereotype, no matter your sexuality:
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aren’t all women who play sport lesbians anyway?
Logarzo considers herself to be out, but by society’s working definition at the time of this interview she was not. Now, after an earlier version of this piece was published, she is. Confused?
And what about Hope and Carlstrom? Tony Harper, the Fox Sports journalist who wrote the caption, explained: “I googled them.
I found three articles where Moana refers to Isabella as her ‘friend’ so that’s what I went with.” Erin Riley, the author of the tweet that looked to ‘correct’ the caption, says: “I just assumed they were out.” But were they? Who even gets to decide?
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