of an out gay/bi ballplayer in today’s game. Your thoughts?
That’s a great question, Randy, especially in today’s climate of suspense surrounding “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the California ballot initiative. In the past few years we’ve seen a couple football players come out of the closet along with a basketball player or two. Baseball, of course, has Billy Bean. But the one thing that all of these guys have in common is that they didn’t come out until after their careers were over. I think that says a lot about the continued repressive climate in professional sports.
However, I don’t think this really comes as a surprise. Sports have the power to do good but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. When Jackie Robinson finally broke into the major leagues, the Civil War had been over for 80 years and the 13th Amendment had been around nearly as long. But that didn’t mean baseball felt any need to allow black players into the league and it definitely didn’t mean the fans immediately accepted it.
The difference here is that skin color is something immediately apparent, something you can’t necessarily hide. That made the conflict much more apparent as well. But sexuality you can hide and many gay athletes choose to take that route because it’s simpler. Why confront the issue and suffer the very real consequences when you can choose to step around it?
That’s one reason why baseball is still looking for its gay trailblazer, a guy who can step up and proudly say that he’s out before heading to the ballpark to do his job, ignoring the slurs and comments.
But there’s another aspect to this that we need to remember. Jackie wasn’t just any ballplayer. He was an All-Star, a guy who played on a winning team and who was one of the leaders of that team. If a Ryan Howard, an Albert Pujols or a Tim Lincecum were to come out and then continue to perform at the same level, it could have the same effect as Robinson. But some ordinary Joe, a roleplayer who has to grind it out, sadly, that just doesn’t mean the same thing.
This is an important distinction. The only reason that anyone still talks about Billy Bean is because of his coming out story. He was an adequate ballplayer but that’s it. Yes, Jackie was black but he also was the Rookie of the Year, won an MVP and was elected into the Hall of Fame. He didn’t let himself be defined as a black ballplayer; he was a great ballplayer who happened to be black.
In order to truly overcome the stigma of being gay, an out ballplayer would have to transcend his sexuality. That’s the point when he truly becomes accepted and that’s the point when it becomes easier for other ballplayers to come out and join him. But until that time, it’s going to be a difficult road.
Statistically, it’s nearly impossible that there are no gay or bi baseball players in the game today. And like you pointed out in your post, when respected guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Joe Torre say they would welcome out ballplayers on their team, you would like to think that a change is coming. But I’m afraid we still have a ways to go.
You don’t have to be gay or openly support gay rights to feel a little chill at the news coming out of Uganda right now. For a country that is supposed to be one of the brighter spots in sub-Saharan Africa (excepting the still turbulent north), the recent news and continuing coverage of a law that, if passed, would be one of the the most draconian and repressive anti-gay laws in the world is particularly troubling. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, though, considering that the “developed” world hasn’t really made that much more progress.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. Raise your hand if you saw Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Bruno this past summer. Ok, now keep your hand up if you enjoyed it. Yeah, a lot of hands went down there, didn’t they? And why is that? Was it any less funny than Borat? Were the stunts any less ridiculous? Did he take advantage of people to a greater degree than he did in Borat? I’ll admit that some of the scenes were over the top. But honestly, there was nothing there that was nearly as offensive as most of what happened in Borat.
So, why didn’t people like the movie? Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it has a lot to do with being uncomfortable. It’s easy to laugh at xenophobia. It’s easy to laugh at a village simpleton who doesn’t understand the way things are done elsewhere. But the in-your-face sexuality of Bruno is discomfiting. The character doesn’t hide who he is and rather goes out of his way to flaunt it. Even those who consider themselves supportive of gay rights seemed to find themselves ejected from their comfort zones by Bruno’s portrayal of such extreme sexuality.
These same currents flow even deeper in the world of sports. Imagine for a second if Tiger Woods had admitted to having multiple affairs with men. At this point, despite his so-called indiscretions, he still has his marketing deals and no one is really considering cutting them, even if they probably will use the affairs to leverage the rates they pay. But if it had been 11 men? Or even 10 women and 1 man? He’d be out the door faster than a neo-Nazi at a Rufus Wainwright concert.
Within Major League Baseball, only two players have come out and both of them did it well after their careers had ended. They knew that there was just no way that who they were would be accepted. The article linked above notes one particular anecdote that gets right to the heart of the matter:
“In his recently published memoir, Going the Other Way, [Billy] Bean
(not the A’s GM) recounts how Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda constantly made homophobic
jokes, even as Lasorda’s gay son was dying from AIDS.”
The sad thing is, an openly gay baseball player, or even football or basketball player, could go a long way towards helping people become more comfortable with homosexuality. As support for gay marriage has grown in the US, the statistics show that much of that has to do with knowing someone who is gay. When that someone you know is the guy who plays second base for your team, well, that just might have an even bigger impact.
This isn’t going to change overnight. Intolerance is a deep-seated problem that takes generations to truly root out. But like it or not, in the same way that athletes are held up as examples and role-models all over the world, our country is also held up as an example all over the world. If we want to criticize Uganda for its inhumane law, we should probably take a look closer to home as well.
MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews led off its December 15th
broadcast with the teaser line “Pay-Rod” next to a photo of a
disgruntled, egomaniacal Rod Blagojevich — a clear shot at the
shortcomings of Blago’s esurient character aimed to compare him to
Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez. The joke here is obvious: pay to play. But MSNBC got this baseball-politico comparison wrong and as the de facto authority on such surreptitious simile, allow me to tell you why:
demands and receives big money because he is arguably the best player
out there; simple supply-and-demand economics only follow suit.
however, does not. His record low approval rating (even prior to
Patrick Fitzgerald’s accusations) rivaled only that of our Dear Leader
Bush. His refusal to live in Springfield has long angered tax-payers
and politicians alike. His swashbuckling appropriations of state funds
caused him to be a Chicago Tribune target. And let’s face it: his
But the most appalling of all Blago character traits is his cocky swagger, his self-righteous talking points, his relentless refusal to come clean — to face the Federal music and tell the public what exactly is/has been going on.
In other words…
Rod Blagojevich is the Barry Bonds of politics.
Marion Barry is the Josh Hamilton…. and…
David Duke is the Ty Cobb… and…
If we’re going to throw out catchy baseball player references in
relation to controversial politicians, MSNBC, let’s make sure they’re
accurate, shall we?
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.