For an institution assumed to be the font of so much undiluted heterosexual chutzpah, professional men's sports observe an awful lot of decidedly queer rituals. There's the tackling, the ass-patting, the passionate post-score embracing—to say nothing of the annual would-be drag ball that is the NFL Super Bowl halftime show. Fans throw down hundreds of dollars in order to watch brawny young men chase each other across courts and fields and rinks, the drama amplified by a soundtrack of flamboyant pop odes to dancing, pride, individuality, and, in the wise words of the Village People, the "many ways to have a good time."
It is through music, in fact, that sports culture comes closest to outing itself. Stadium music directors cycle new pop and hiphop singles into their repertoires to keep things fresh, but the truly immortal anthems that have grown to define the sporting event experience come from genres with roots in queer subcultures. Disco birthed "YMCA"; glam gave us Gary Glitter and "Rock & Roll, Pt. 2" (the Hey Song). House produced many of the tracks included on the first two volumes of Jock Jams, a Tommy Boy Records' compilation of sporting event favorites that wouldn't sound out of place on the dancefloor of a gay club. Packed with canonical stadium tunes by Black Box, Snap!, C+C Music Factory, Technotronic, and 2 Unlimited (whose "Get Ready for This" is played whenever the Yankees make their first inning entrance), Jock Jams is a testament to the effortless compatibility of the sporty and the queer.
Even when they deviate from the trusted trifecta of glam, disco, and house to draw from heavy metal and hard rock, sports anthems still manage to deliver more campiness per note than a Kylie Minogue tribute album. Official Detroit Pistons team theme "The Final Countdown," howled with disturbing sincerity by Swedish pretty boys Europe, rides on top of a keyboard riff that sounds nicked from a particularly catfight-filled episode of Dynasty. "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by Scorpions, if it makes any sense at all, seems to describe singer Klaus Meine's fondness for cruising, and the gender of his conquests is never quite clear. "Just have to make it with someone I choose!" Meine yelps, before asking, "What is wrong with another sin?" Not much, according to University of Miami football team the Hurricanes, who along with two National Hockey League teams play "Rock You" at every home game.
Then there's Queen, whose hefty contributions to the sports songbook include "Another One Bites the Dust," "We Will Rock You," and "We Are the Champions." Their messages of struggle and survival against the odds, combined with Freddie Mercury's status as a queer icon, have translated into a long-term and not-so-subtly gay appeal that is also attractive to straight fans. Sports venerate the underdog, and everyone, whether gay or straight or Liberace, can relate to being the underdog at some point.
Music provides an opportunity for the stubborn machismo of professional sports to let its guard down, to revel in outrageousness, silliness, fun, and to acknowledge, if only indirectly, the homoerotic friction that's never far away from a full-court press or flirty locker room towel-snap. If 60,000 sports fans joyfully dancing and singing along to "YMCA" proves anything, it's that there's something a little queer in all of us.