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May 18, 2011
As Amplify’s resident Sports Expert*, I’m interested in the recent uptick in GLBTQ issues in sports. For good and bad, athletes are being forced more and more to acknowledge the existence of GLBTQ people and confront homophobia in their field. As a blog called OutSports puts it, for sports, it’s been the gayest month ever.
It started with Kobe Bryant’s slinging homophobic slurs at a ref when the referee made a call he didn’t like. What sexual orientation has to do with basketball fouls I do not know, but either way, he was fined $100,000 for the incident. Two weeks later, Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was suspended for two weeks for "yelling (a homophobic slur) to fans sitting in the left field seats and simulating a sex act with a bat" (ew). In both cases, officials strongly condemned the behavior, and both men apologized. An Olympics official also resigned after it was revealed that he is an anti-gay-marriage activist. In short, you can’t just be openly homophobic anymore.
On the other hand, not too many folks are openly gay, either; consider the recent coming out of Rick Welts, the president of the Phoenix Suns. Is it really that shocking that a random Sports Executive Person would be gay, wonders this Sports Expert? Apparently, it is:
“This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” said Mr. Welts, who stands now as a true rarity, a man prominently employed in professional men’s team sports, willing to declare his homosexuality. [Emphasis added]
It seems that on a scale from "Dan Savage’s living room" to "Ugandan legislature" in terms of places it’s OK to be gay, professional sports could still stand to move a little to the left.
And: they are. In the last few weeks we’ve seen endorsements of GLBTQ rights from hockey’s Sean Avery and football’s Brendon Ayanbadejo. The NBA itself, in partnership with GLSEN, has debuted a public service announcement decrying the use of "gay" as a slur. And the San Francisco Giants announced just yesterday that they would make a video for the anti-bullying project "It Gets Better."
There’s a lingering culture of homophobia among athletes, who are all supposed to be such tough guys: in the article above Dave Welts himself notes that when he was younger did not want to be a part of gay culture because it seemed effeminate. But in balance, it seems that sports is trying to move past all that and get vetter at handling GLBTQ issues. Of course there will be issues in the future. But condemning hate speech, openly supporting gay rights, and feeling comfortable enough to come out are all positive signs. Basketball hall-of-famer Charles Barkley, always an entertaining interview, had some truly awesome things to say recently (including some choice remarks for media inflating the homophobic-athletes stories):
“First of all, every player has played with gay guys. It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think.”
….“Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot,” Barkley said. “I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport has probably played with a gay person."
I’ve been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because as a black person, I can’t be in for any form of discrimination at all.”
Read the entire interview, it is great. Barkley’s main point is pretty basic, but one this Sports Expert can endorse: "I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play." Hopefully, this is how homophobia in sports (and in the world) ends: with everyone just coming to their senses and playing the game.
*In that I follow no sports and frequently denigrate sports