By: Dan Woog*/Special to TRT—
Outsports – the go-to website for all things gay and sporting – has compiled an astonishing list of athletes’ anti-gay comments.
They fill several pages. And – especially because this is 2013, The Year of the LGBT Jock – they fill readers with a variety of emotions. There’s anger that people – popular role models, which is what athletes are – feel the need to put other people down. There is disgust, that some folks express bigoted beliefs so openly. But there is also amusement, because such anti-gay sentiments seem so out of touch with the world today.
For years, sports was called The Last Closet. The idea was that although the rest of society was moving rapidly toward acceptance of gays and lesbians, the athletic world lagged far behind.
This year, though, has seen a sea change in attitudes. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes have burst out of the closet. Coaches, owners and top executives have embraced the cause. Teams are reaching out to the LGBT community, offering discounts on Pride Day and sponsoring Pride floats. [pullquote]The most recent head-scratching, is-this-really-2013 example of homo-ignorant behavior came a few weeks ago. Describing the way he played physical defense against LeBron James, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert quickly added, “no homo.” [/pullquote]
So now, when an athlete makes an anti-gay slur, he – and it is almost always a male – is seen as an outsider. The outpouring of support that greeted the coming-out announcements of soccer athlete Robbie Rogers and basketball player Jason Collins makes homophobic comments seem outdated, juvenile, and even comical.
It’s as if the athletes who say these things are cowering in their own closet. Where once athletes and coaches feared coming out, now the cleats are on the other foot. The fear today is expressed by athletes and coaches who realize the world is changing. And – probably subconsciously – they realize they don’t have the skills, insights or real-world experience to deal with it.
They’re the ones who still think “fa&&ot” is the worst insult you can hurl at someone. That’s what San Jose Earthquake Alan Gordon called Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson during a Major League Soccer game. (Actually, he called him a “f%$#@ng fa&&ot,” though he did not specify “top” or “bottom.”)
MLS responded swiftly, slapping Gordon with a three-game suspension. His equally swift apology included this: “That is not in my character, but there is still no excuse for saying what I said. I made a mistake and I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Gordon showed a lot more – well, character – than Bully Ray. The pro wrestler lived up to his nickname, calling a fan a “fag” and a “queer.” Bully said he meant no harm and was “careless” in his use of slurs.
Far less “careless” was San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver. In the run-up to the Super Bowl – with media attention heaped on the pro-gay activism of players like Chris Kluwe and Brandon Ayanbadejo – Culliver proclaimed, “I don’t do the gay guys man. I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”
Besides the absurdity of a player in San Francisco – of all places – saying such not-so-sweet stuff, Culliver’s remarks revealed how far the gays-in-sports issue has evolved. The football player stood virtually alone fearing that, if he had a gay teammate, locker room issues would inevitably follow. Culliver’s threat that any gay player would have to leave sounded antediluvian. And while there are no openly gay current NFL players – yet – his assertion that there are none on his team makes one wonder what else he doesn’t know about life in the real world.
The most recent head-scratching, is-this-really-2013 example of homo-ignorant behavior came a few weeks ago. Describing the way he played physical defense against LeBron James, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert quickly added, “no homo.”
Perhaps he thought he was back on the elementary school playground. Maybe he worried that reporters (who, in the same press conference, he referred to as “motherf&$#@rs”) would actually think that, by guarding another player closely in a nationally televised playoff game, Hibbert was really trying to cop a feel. Or maybe – no, the mind boggles. There is no rational explanation for why a well-paid professional athlete would trot out such a tired term.
Unless he is so removed from the world in 2013, he just doesn’t understand how society is changing. But that doesn’t explain it either. Because so many NBA, NFL, MLS and other pro athletes do get it.
Like Kobe Bryant. Two years ago, he called a referee a “f$#@&%g fa&&ot.” Reaction was swift.
And when Jason Collins came out, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar was one of the first to react. He tweeted: “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others.”
*Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach and gay activist. His latest book is “We Kick Balls: True Stories from the Youth Soccer Wars.” He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.