Here's a fact: In the entire history of the Olympics, there has never been an openly gay male gymnast. An Olympic gymnast hasn’t even come out after retiring. We've had a gay decathlete, runner, hurdler and high jumper, among others. Yet gymnastics, along with diving, has been widely perceived as a "gay" sport, while the same is not said for track and field. Hence, the emails I have gotten asking whether British diver Tom Daley is gay (Not that I know of). Matthew Mitcham from Australia is the only openly gay diver in London.
Stereotypes are alive and well in sports, even at the Olympics. As with all stereotypes, there is a germ of truth. Gay men do like watching gymnastics and diving, for obvious reasons. And in diving at least, we have had competitors who were gay while competing or came out after. Both sports are also perceived as being more tolerant of gay participants. It could be that gay athletes self-select for certain sports, avoiding some seen as being less tolerant.
Even fans assume certain sports are gay. A 28-year-old Brit was arrested for sending this malicious tweet following British 10-meter synchro divers Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield finishing fourth:
“If there is any consolation for finishing fourth at least Daley and Waterfield can go and bum each other #teamHIV.”
Part of the reason for the "diving is gay" stereotype are the swimsuits, the tight Speedo variety that no straight American dude would be caught dead in. Speedos seem to really bother a lot of guys and I always thought that was one reason the U.S. swim officials pushed so hard for suits that got away from that look. Now, almost no elite swimmers wear them. They are essential, though, in diving, since you want as tight and small a fit as possible when entering a pool from three to 10 meters up. There is even as Internet meme "Olympics or gay porn?" that focuses almost exclusively on men's diving, with Tom Daley front and center.
But stereotypes are by their nature oversimplified, hence the idea that divers and gymnasts are gay, while weightlifters and water polo players are not. Of course, in our society, the most macho and most popular of all our sports is football. Nothing gay about football. Yet, the late folklorist Alan Dundes wrote a famous paper in the 1970s that argued that football "providing as it does a socially sanctioned framework for male body contact … is a form of homosexual behavior." Ouch.
These particular sports stereotypes are harmless and mostly fun. The stigma of calling something gay has lost some of its sting and even we can get in on the act as this SB Nation, Cyd and I did attest to. Just be aware that gay athletes are in every sport, so never assume.