Today's Mighty Oak

Sportsball!



Half a world apart, two interconnected stories have emerged.  The treatment of LGBT individuals in sport, and in the broader world, is one being examined with the coming out of Michael Sam and the games of the Sochi Olympics.

Even spaces created to be safe havens for the LGBT community, both physical 2 and online 3, are now being targeted.  A ninth grade girl was found guilty of violating the ban on progpganda and was placed on an offender list and was subsequently beaten by her father, landing her in the hospital with head wounds 4, just for coming out to her classmates.

Recent documentaries about the subject show hope for the Russian people, even from the Russian LGBT community.  In the face of such adversity, they wish to stay to fight for their cause, knowing that changing hearts and minds comes about from knowing out gay people.

But sadly, that won’t heal that ninth-grade girls head.  It won’t heal those targeted by “morality patrols,” or other vigilantes.  It won’t heal those who trusted in the basic decency of humanity and were instead met with hatred and broken bones.

The day of the opening ceremony brought more than 60 arrests across Russia of LGBT activists.  The IOC defended the arrests and beatings 5 and Rachel Maddow gives a great and concise report here.  Few other protests were held, but the arrests (and then dumping in the wilderness) were defended by the IOC 6.

The Google Doodle that is referenced was in place for two days and mentions both Principle 4 and Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.  Principle 6 7 reads:

Sport does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.

In response to the Russian law, as well as the IOC’s utter refusal to stand up for basic human dignity, a few athletes have taken matters, literally, into their hands with protests on mittens 8.  The Canaidan Institute of Diversity and Inclusion produced this tongue-in-cheek video and the US State Department’s clip promoting the games and the athletes made sure to include sexual diversity 9.

And back here in the United States, we are now looking at the distinct possibility of the first openly gay NFL player.

Sports has always had a place in culture as one of the last bastions of homophobia, at least male professional sports.  Since women are already “subverting their traditional roles” by being athletes, lesbian professionals in sports seemingly make sense.  In at least some sort of backwards psychosis type of way.

So a gay male player, in the most popular of the “big four” sports, is a huge deal.  And that player may be Michael Sam.  While Jason Collins came out last year, he is at (or near, although he was practicing with the Nets recently) the end of his career, so seemingly what progress was made with him, came to a sudden stop.  Well that escalated quickly.  Jason Collins signed a 10-day contract with the New York Nets, and on Sunday became the first openly gay man to play in one of the big four sports.  And as we’re finding out, the owner of the Nets is Russian, and a political opponent of Putin 10, so the contract may have been partially a political move.

Michael Sam on the other hand, is well respected by press, his teammates, coaches and his entire school.  He was out to his team this entire year, leading them as a captain to a season with only one loss and capped by a victory in the Cotton Bowl.  And he’s about to enter the NFL draft process.

A few collegiate athletes voiced their concerns 13, some were punished, others were not, but I have a feeling that in the long run, those that judge Sam on his sexuality instead of his athletic proess will be left behind in the dust of history.But this seemingly upending of the heteronormativity of the NFL has brought the bigots out of the woodwork.  Both Jon Stewart 11 and an eloquent Texan sportscaster12 have pointed out the hyprociticy of a league and a public that would rather have murders, assailants, dog fighters and a parade of other criminals instead of a well-behaved gay man.

Sam’s own father, who, admitedly, was not involved in his life, came out with a confusing and hatefilled statement, claiming that he does not think the NFL should have any gay players, but he still wants his son to be able to play professionally 14.  Honestly, I can’t wrap my mind around that, and thinking about the mental gymnastics he is putting himself through hurts.

But for the majority of us, we will never compete in an NFL stadium.  We will never have a chance to win gold for our home country.  But this is a situation that affects us all:

A news flash for every straight man out there: You’ve been naked in front of a gay man.

This is not the end of the world, some sort of chemical imbalance being brought into your sacred locker room space or even open “hunting season” for straight men.  As Frank Bruni of the New York Times continues, if a gay man happens to be next to you after the showers, a squeal is probably not the correct reaction 15

What I think has been the most interesting aspect of this, and the Jason Collins story, is the resistance set up by some corners of society.  And here’s the big secret: straight people don’t get to tell the gay community what’s news to us.

Of the 3,000 (give or take) professional male athletes on the rosters of the big four, we have yet to have an openly gay one 16.  So yes, this is news.  This is progress.  Announcing he is gay is not shoving it down anyone’s throat any more than every single act of sexual declaration heterosexuals unknowing commit each day: talking about their spouses, dates, children, hand holding, kisses on the cheek, photos of loved ones on their desks.  Yes, there is much more to Michael Sam than his sexuality, as being gay is more than who we sleep with.

This is about love and equality.  The very principles sport is supposed to embody.


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Notes:

  1. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/anti-gay-demonstrators-in-sochi-identified-as-americans.html 
  2. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/putinsrussia.html 
  3. http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2014/02/did-russia-hack-gay-hook-up-app.html 
  4. http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/02/03/teenage-girl-comes-out-to-her-classmates 
  5. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/ioc-defends-arrests-and-beating-of-lgbt-activists.html 
  6. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/ioc-defends-removal-of-italian-lgbt-activist-vladimir-luxuria-from-sochi-olympic-village.html 
  7. http://www.principle6.org/ 
  8. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/maas.html 
  9. http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2014/01/state-department-issues-gay-inclusive.html 
  10. http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2014/02/about-owner-of-brooklyn-nets.html 
  11. http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/jon-stewart-wins-internet-forever-response-michael-sam-coming-shesaid/ 
  12. http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2014/02/13/sports-commentator-dale-hansen-of-texas-on-michael-sam-and-the-nfl 
  13. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/msus-rufus-warren-football-is-a-man-sport-and-being-gay-is-not-a-man.html 
  14. http://www.towleroad.com/2014/02/michael-sams-father-struggling-with-his-sons-sexuality.html 
  15. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/opinion/bruni-panic-in-the-locker-room.html?ref=opinion&_r=0 
  16. http://outinleftfieldblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/the-straight-persons-guide-on-how-not-to-react-to-the-michael-sam-news/ 

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