Friday, November 6, 2009


WARNING: Before you read any further, I recognize that some of you reading this may not agree on marriage equality for all or seem to be allergic to the idea of homosexuality. On the flip side, there is a legion of people who feel so strongly about the gay suffrage movement that they partake in a little straight-bashing to spite the mainstream. While this lone blogger isn’t exactly going to change anyone’s opinions, one cannot deny that something is stirring these days. Why this matters to the sports world is the subject here.

This has been a heck of a week in the sports world and what I’m commenting on has nothing to do with the Yankees’ capturing their fifth championship in the Wild Card era (you’re noticing what I didn’t say, I bet).

Earlier this week, the long-awaited sale of the Chicago Cubs became official, meaning that Laura Ricketts – one of the principal owners – became the first openly gay member of an ownership of a major pro sports franchise.

That news was followed by an incident last Saturday in Los Angeles involving Dallas Mavericks reserve forward/center Drew Gooden. While there is still confusion around the story, it’s been alleged that Gooden didn’t take to kindly to some so-called “good natured heckling” as he was on the bench during the game against the Clippers. He’s been accused of responding to a couple of those heckling fans by calling them ‘faggots’.

Finally, there’s an article in USA Today where columnist and former NHLer Justin Bourne called for an end to the use of anti-gay slurs in hockey; going far enough to admit that he was one of many whom freely used them during his playing days. His article sent some ripples through that sport’s world as some fans derided him while others praised him. (For further reading on this, do check the excellent Puck Daddy blog from Greg Wyshynski).

All of this may go over some heads as they may ask “why is he even discussing this stuff?” or some random troll may come across this blog and ask “is he gay or something?”

(It’s because Scribe talks about sports culture, going beyond hot topic of the moment or providing occasional analysis. No, I’m not gay, but I appreciate that you asked.)

We are still dealing with barriers of entry based on race, nationality and gender; even in the sports world that helped bring changes to the society that enjoys them. How in the world do we deal with something that we can’t or at least are not supposed to see?

There have been athletes that came out of the closet in recent years; some in seemingly fringe sports that gain little attention here in North America while the majority of them waited until their careers were over to make the revelation. Arguably, the biggest reveal so far Stateside has been for Sheryl Swoopes, the future Hall of Fame basketball player who came out in 2005. Yet, being an active female basketball player doesn’t reverberate as much as would an active male player.

Or maybe an active male player with a prominent role on a team.

The lasting legacy from John Amaechi’s autobiography, Man in the Middle – he’s as British as he is gay, that’s the main takeaway – was not the book itself. Even though he discussed his struggle in opening up about his lifestyle and despite pointing out the ironies that exist in NBA locker rooms, we only remember that Tim Hardaway decided to have his say. At the time, I wondered why this singular figure would want to come out in a society that hasn’t shown it to be truly accepting.

Now, some two-plus years removed, I wonder how prepared are we when this ideal athlete does come out.

When or where is uncertain, but it’s inevitable that the first openly gay active athlete will reveal himself. Whether it’s fair or not to compare the gay rights movement to that of civil rights for ethnic Americans, the similarities are striking; centuries of separation being addressed as the oppressed become more empowered with information and media access, greater organized movements within those communities, an avail of resources from supporters of the cause and the lengthy legislative battle to secure the desired rights.

The one aspect that is missing is that public figure that is willing to take the brunt of criticism, slander and possible threats of violence. At least in North America, that figure came about from the sports world as (s)he proved such excellence on a physical and competitive stage that eventually, opposing teams “wanted one of them, too” like it's a newer and better toy.

Are we going to be better this chance to integrate him into our sports world compared to the past? Are his teammates going to at least be professional enough to perform to task, even if they disagree with his sexual preference? Is the media – this weekly paper scribe included – going to treat him as they would any other player, even if the powers-that-be demand ‘round-the-clock coverage of everything he does after the reveal?

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, without a doubt, that player is coming. I just can’t help but to wonder what kind of environment will exist when he comes out of the closet.

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