Monday, April 28, 2008

More on Homophobic Sports Fans…And Ways To Address the Problem

In my February 18 blog I commented on the disgraceful fan behavior at the men’s basketball game between UCLA and Oregon where UCLA freshman Kevin Love and his family in the stands were subjected to a barrage of homophobic and other degrading taunts from Oregon fans. Unfortunately, this event is not an isolated incident. It seems like a trend that has become more common in both men’s and women’s sports at all levels.

Recently, the homophobic atmosphere created by fans at New York Rangers Ice Hockey games has been in the news. It turns out that Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, a national advocacy organization for addressing LGBT issues in schools, is a Rangers fan. He found the homophobic atmosphere at Madison Square Garden so uncomfortable that he stopped going to games. Then Kevin, being the incredible activist and educator that he is, did something about it: He arranged a meeting with representatives from the New York Rangers and the Garden.

According to an article in the New York Times, the Rangers and Garden staff agreed to implement a specific action plan based on recommendations provided by Kevin and Jeff Kagen, the director of the New York City Gay Hockey Association (Apparently fans erupted in a chorus of boos when the group’s name appeared on monitors above the ice). I’m not sure what the specific action plan is, but I hope other professional and college officials follow suit.

This is not a problem limited to men’s sports. Last year the Mills College soccer team (Mills is a women’s college) was subjected to homophobic and racist taunts from opposing players during a game with another school in their conference. In response, the Mills soccer team introduced a proposal to the NCAA for legislation that bans derogatory behavior during sporting events. The legislation was passed.

That’s the first part of the battle – developing a policy. The tough part is getting schools and professional teams to adopt and enforce policy. As I have said before, I think it is way past time for professional team and college administrators to set some standards (and enforce them) on what is acceptable fan behavior. I hope the New York Rangers’ willingness to set such policy is a good start.

You don’t need to be Kevin Jennings or a leader of a national GLBT advocacy organization to make a difference. If you attend a game and are subjected to homophobic, racist or sexist behavior by other fans, call the school AD or the team management. Some fans of European football, where the same fan behavior plagues games, have organized mass actions at games to indicate that they do not accept homophobic, sexist and racist taunts as part of cheering for (or against) teams. Similar group actions organized by local fans could make an important statement and let the goons who engage in this offensive behavior that it will not be tolerated.

If we don’t let sports leaders know what we think, our silence is interpreted as comfort with the hostile, and potentially violent, climate that is created when offensive behavior is tolerated.


E Leb said...

Thanks for another great blog - especially giving folks tips on how to respond as fans.

At Mills, we have focused on policy, enforcement, as well as education of players and fans about appropriate behavior. We read a statement before each game encouraging fans to cheer for their team rather than against the opposing team and that hostile language, harassment, name-calling and other inappropriate behavior is not tolerated.

We have chosen to not emphasize the name of the opposing school in an effort to focus on the offending acts, rather than the people. That event has been a catalyst for education about difference, collaborative leadership, sportsmanship and creating change on multiple levels. We realize this is your blog, but our preference is to not use the other school's name. Using the name could cause negative attention and division within our conference instead of focusing on the learning opportunity and impetus for change. It's not just about us and them, but about changing the atmosphere of sport for all athletes.

Pat Griffin said...

El, thanks for your comment. I have deleted the school name in the post. I think you are right, there is nothing to be gained by identifying the school in the post, especially since from what I understand, things have improved greatly since that one unfortunate incident. A big thank you to Mills for taking the lead on addressing this issue.

E Leb said...

Thanks, Pat.