Friday, March 2, 2007
The Love that Dares Not Speak It’s Name Is Suddenly Quite A Chatterbox
Wow! What a series of news cycles the last few weeks for folks like me who try to keep up with LGBT sports issues in the news. My google alert box runneth over!
First, the Penn State women’s basketball anti-lesbian discrimination case was settled. Then ex-NBA player, John Amaechi came out as a gay man. Another ex-NBA player, Tim Hardaway, responding to a radio talk show question about John Amaechi, went off on an anti-gay tirade. This triggered another round of reactions in the media. NBA Commissioner, David Stern, dismissed Hardaway from his official duties at the NBA All-Star game and Hardaway lost his job with the CBA.
Somewhere in there Snickers ran a Super Bowl commercial with two straight men kissing over a candy bar and then freaking out about it. Amid all the celebration of two black NFL head coaches in the super bowl, we learned that Tony Dungy is a spokesperson for an anti-marriage equality organization in Indiana.
This week, it came to light that the new owners of the NBA Seattle Sonics and WNBA Seattle Storm also contributed a million dollars to a national right wing organization that opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Is that enough to chew on, or what?
I find good news and bad news as I dig through all this.
The good news:
• The world of sport has too long been silent on the issue of anti-gay and lesbian harassment and discrimination. I firmly believe that all this media attention shining brightly on homophobia in sports is a good thing. For people who believe that this is an old problem no longer worthy of coverage (and there are some folks like this out there, believe it or not), it's hard to dismiss a star ex-professional athlete declaring that he “hates gay people” and that they should not be “in the world or in the United States” and definitely not in the locker room. For the rest of us, these news stories create opportunities to educate. When I work with collegiate student-athletes, current events like these bring immediacy to my message that captures their attention and gets them engaged in thinking and talking about what they and their teammates believe.
• When a professional athlete, even an ex-professional athlete, comes out, this is another great educational opportunity. Especially when the athletes, like Sheryl Swoopes and John Amaechi, are so committed to using their celebrity and coming out as a way to educate. Both Sheryl and John understand their positions as role models for young LGBT and straight people. They challenge destructive stereotypes of lesbians and gay men in sport and, in doing so, make it a little more difficult for college and high school coaches to get away with anti-gay harassment and discrimination.
• Which brings us to the Penn State discrimination case. The settlement was disappointing to many people who wanted Rene Portland to lose her job (I count myself among this group). However, the media attention was broad and squarely on the side of social justice in this case. Penn State and coach Portland came of this sad affair with a huge unsightly bigotry blemish on their reputations. The university paid, what I hope was, a big financial settlement to Jennifer Harris. Thus avoiding what many think would have been the further embarrassment of a parade of ex-Penn State players testifying to 20 years of Portland’s lesbian purges at a public trial. I believe this must be a cautionary tale for other universities about the risks they run when a coach is allowed to act on her personal prejudices in the name of the university.
• It was also good news that men like Commissioner Stern, coaches Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas, players Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill and Charles Barkley all spoke out in support of gay players. These guys are role models too and their willingness to speak out sends a message that counters the hate and fear embodied in Hardaway’s rant. It didn’t hurt that Stern also dismissed Hardaway from his All-Star duties on behalf of the NBA. Like the Penn State case, you may not be able to change someone’s bigoted beliefs, but you can make them pay the price for acting on them.
And now the bad news:
• Though we have made progress, at least the issue of homophobia in women’s and men’s sport is on the table now, but talking about it also stirs up the bigots. It makes me cringe to think of some isolated young African-American teenaged Tim Hardaway fan struggling with his sexuality hearing what his idol had to say.
I have no illusions that Tim Hardaway is the only NBA player or professional athlete who hates gay people, but let’s hope others, seeing what happened to Hardaway, keep it to themselves.
• I don’t understand the difference between saying you hate gay people and putting your money and celebrity behind efforts to deny gay people the right to marry. Both actions reflect an underlying dismissal of gay people as fully human and entitled to respect and equality. Hardaway was roundly criticized and punished for his comments, but apparently it is ok with the NBA to have team owners who support political groups who advocate discrimination against gay people. It makes me uncomfortable when white gay people compare the gay rights movement to the Black civil rights movement, but I can’t help ask myself the question, “What if the Seattle owners were contributing to an organization whose goal was invalidation of inter-racial marriage?” Would the NBA have a different reaction?
If I had to choose which is more damaging, I’d definitely rather endure an individual bigot’s name-calling than have organized political organizations working to deny my rights. I know this is a touchy issue. People have the right to support whatever political groups they want to, just as fans can express their displeasure with team owners’ politics at the ticket office. Boycotts are as American as apple pie and can be an effective way to challenge large corporations’ politics. There’s much more to say about this. I’ll leave that for a later post.
That’s it for now. This blogging thing takes time. I’ve got other work to do. Talk to you, later.