By: Dan Woog*/Special for TRT–
So what do LGBT Americans have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?
The passage of same-sex marriage in three more states earlier this month, and the rejection of an anti-gay resolution in another. The reelection of a president who ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and who routinely mentions gay men and lesbians in his litany of American life. The increasing visibility of LGBT people everywhere: on TV, at the pulpit, in the halls of Congress.
And on the playing fields, in the arenas and on the courts, all around the world.
This has been a watershed year for gay athletes – and straight allies. LGBT sports finally emerged from the locker room – the clichéd but true “last closet” – and the result was meh.
The NFL did not crumble under a torrent of limp-wristed linemen, or tacklers who couldn’t wait to jump on opponents after hurling them to the ground. College and high school locker rooms were not filled with erstwhile non-athletes now eager to shower with heretofore untouchable
jocks. Sports radio airtime was not filled with fanatics foaming at the mouth because the end is near.
Our athletic institutions, in fact, are stronger than ever – now that it’s evident to everyone that gay folks play sports, watch sports and talk about sports. Just like so-called normal people.
The National Football League seemed almost relieved that the national conversation turned from concussions and Tim Tebow’s Christianity to a passionate defense of gay marriage by an articulate, insightful punter and an equally outspoken linebacker. Both athletes were inspired to
activism by ballot initiatives in their states (Minnesota and Maryland). Both in turn inspired thoughtful debate on gay marriage, as well as the generational divide surrounding that issue that’s increasingly apparent across America – including the sports world.
Progress in professional sports was evident too in the quick, heartfelt reactions whenever behind-the-times athletes messed up. The Toronto Blue Jays quickly suspended a player for writing an anti-gay slogan in his eye black – and donated his fine to the You Can Play Project. Major League Soccer slapped athletes with hefty fines for vocal outbursts. Leagues did it not because they had to. They did it because they wanted to – and because it was the right thing to do.
A slew of LGBT sports projects gathered momentum as they so often do these days – online. Some were sponsored by organizations, like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Some were the work of individuals, like straight ally Hudson Taylor’s Athlete Ally. All are gaining adherents and gathering power every day. And – although each works to make itself eventually irrelevant – all are crucial to the cause.
For trans athletes, the news is good too. Sports governing bodies have moved beyond the oh-my-god-a-guy-wants-to-compete-with-girls phase. Serious consideration is now being given to policies and procedures. This ensures that rules for competitions are fair, acknowledgment of gender variations is addressed, and the rights of all athletes are honored.
So what does all this mean for the LGBT community? As we sit around the Thanksgiving table – with our family of birth, our family of choice, or our legally married spouses (thanks, Chris Kluwe and Brandon Ayanbadejo!) – we should all give thanks for lots of things.
We should thank the pioneering men and women – the Dave Kopays, Martina Navratilovas and Tom Waddells, and many others – who, in their own ways and their own times, first opened the locker room closet door that the rest of us walked through.
We should thank the leaders of LGBT athletic organizations – Gay Games, leagues and teams, in sports ranging from softball, flag football and volleyball to running, swimming and bicycling – for creating safe spaces for gay men and lesbians to participate. We should thank those same
leaders for opening their ranks to straight allies. Their numbers are growing, and have played an enormous role in demystifying the entire concept of “gay sports.”
We should thank the commissioners of the five major sports leagues: the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. They have backed up their words of inclusion with action. So have the owners of many professional teams. Too many franchises to count have sponsored LGBT Nights this year, reached out to organizations and taken actions, large and
small, to prove that they value all their fans, gay and straight. These sports leaders show that change comes from the top down, as well as the bottom up.
That’s a lot of thanks to give.
Now stop reading. Go eat your turkey.
Then turn on the TV. Watch a football game.
*Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the “Jocks” series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.