TAG | ESPN
As you may have noticed—whether you check this blog regularly, once a month, or if this is your first time—there has been a dearth of updates. It has made no difference whether I’ve been busy (during finals) or not (during break between semesters). Merely, I have not had the motivation to write.
The reason: I haven’t felt compelled by anything.
Sure, of course, there have been minor developments within the scope of what I normally write about. And I do my best to pass those on via Twitter or Facebook. “Random sports person vocalizes his support of the gay community!” or “Random sports person does something homophobic!” or “Random athlete playing random sport at a random level of competition just came out!”
Not to minimize the importance of those events—because each incremental step is newsworthy—but I have nothing to add to those stories that I haven’t said already. In fact, I even have categories for each of those topics: Allies in Sport, Athletes Coming Out, and Homophobia in Sport. While the individual details may vary from story to story, generally, my commentary will be the same. And it gets repetitive. I’ve always wanted to be offer more than, “Here is Story X, plus repetitive, obvious commentary.”
Anyway, enough of the reasons why I haven’t written; clearly, I’m writing, so I must have a good reason!
And that reason: I could not believe the comments made by my classmates when discussing whether women could coach men.
First, some context.
The course is “Sports Law” and the previous week we had discussed the scope of authority for the commissioners of leagues to act for “what is in the best interest of the sport.” (Aside: I wish every law school course was like this!) This week, in wrapping up that subject and with those commissioner powers and responsibilities in mind, we were asked to think about and to discuss the following questions under the heading of “Sports and Social Ethics”:
- Do you ban the athlete who is HIV or AIDS positive?
- Does the American with Disabilities Act come into play?
- Is there discrimination in sports not only against HIV positive people but also gay and lesbian athletes, minorities, or women in general?
- What do you think of the Rooney Rule? And should there be percentages of a certain minority of players and coaches and should it tie to the overall population?
- Should Affirmative Action be applied in sports?
- Should athletes have a right of free speech even if they say something distasteful, or can their team govern what they say based on the potential embarrassment?
- Should athletes be allowed to make protests or demonstrations while they are part of a team? This includes considerations of free speech, freedom of religion and assembly in a public building. [And now, Social Media.]
Whew. What a list.
Honestly, the class could have (and I would have enjoyed) spending an hour-plus on any one of those questions. But with limited time, we were only able to discuss a few, and in far more brevity than the subjects could warrant.
The discussion began with the first question listed, “Do you ban the athlete who is HIV or AIDS positive?” The professor added some context: other players in the league (even up to all but the single athlete in question) are refusing to play. If you’re commissioner, do you ban the athlete? Or, if you’re a plaintiff’s attorney, do you take the case?
Of course, I had something to say. I mentioned that the risks of transmitting HIV or AIDS in that fashion are significantly low, and that there are far more risky elements of any sport that are not acted upon; therefore, to act on this would be discriminatory. Others fairly retorted that in the interest of the entire game, rather than the interest of a single player, if 99% of the league refused to play with that athlete, prohibiting the HIV/AIDS athlete may be your only course of action.
While I could go on and on about that subject, what I consider to be the absurd comments sparking my interest to write came next. So, yes, after over 700 words of ramble, I’m finally getting to the substance of what I wanted to write about. (Sorry for stringing you along this far.)
We moved on to discussing the Rooney-Rule of the NFL. If you’re not familiar with it, basically, any NFL team that is hiring a new head coach must have three “finalists” and one of those three finalists must be a “minority candidate.” We discussed the merits of it, whether it has been successful or not, whether it is still needed, etc.
And then the professor posed the question: Should a rule like the Rooney-Rule be imposed for women coaches in NCAA men’s sports, because, for example, there are no women head or assistant coaches in men’s Division I basketball ? (The professor was not, nor am I, familiar with any women coaches at that level).
The response simultaneously astounded and bothered me.
And it came from both men and women.
Ignoring the merits of a rule like the Rooney-Rule and whether there would even be women interested in coaching men as general matters (which both were discussed), those that spoke suggested that a woman would not even have the capacity to do so.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
The arguments seemed to suggest that a woman would be lacking in what I’ve grouped together as two ways: (1) competence and (2) leadership.
All/most/many coaches of men’s basketball played at that level at some point and even if a woman played at some point, the game is different (size of the ball, speed, size, physicality, etc.); so therefore, a woman would not even be able to coach men satisfactorily.
I’m sorry. What?!?
Okay, sure, most of the coaches at that level did play at that level. And yes, it certainly could be beneficial, both from understanding the game and in getting a little credibility from the male players on the team. But a requirement?! Not even close.
Plenty can be learned through observation. Fundamentals can be learned and taught by anyone. (In fact, the woman’s game has been known for having better fundamentals.) Xs and Os can be drawn up by anyone. Boxing out, free throws, pick and rolls, court spacing: None of it is so profound that it cannot be learned, even without having played at the exact same level of competition.
Oddly enough, I’ve written about this before, after a woman was selected to coach a men’s football team in D.C. in 2010 (of which Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers tweeted his criticisms of the move).
At that time, ESPN columnist Jemele Hill tweeted, “If ur against women coaching fb, fine. but dont make it an athletic argument. plenty of bad/mediocre male athletes are coaches.”
Indeed, there are plenty of coaches who were horrible at their sport, or never played at all. In 2007, ESPN columnist Andy Katz wrote the piece, “Coaches prove you didn’t have to play to win,” specifically highlighting successful men’s college basketball coaches who never played at that level.
And there are examples in every sport and at every level.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in the class discussion, Nancy Lieberman coaches men of the Texas Legends in the NBA’s development league, a level of play (speed, skill, etc.) above college. She played at the highest level of women’s basketball, both professionally and in the Olympics. She also coached in the WNBA. She has proven to be able to coach women and men competently. Where one has done it, there are more.
Male collegiate athletes would not respect (listen to, accept direction from, etc.) a woman coach, and therefore, the woman coach could not lead the team.
Again, what?! This is the same argument that has discriminatorily prevented women from advancing in the corporate world. This is the same argument that was made in opposing African-American coaching white players. It is pathetic.
Really, I think it comes down to distinguishing between whether the male athletes would not respect a woman coach or could not.
Clearly, they could. They possess the capacity to do so. Throughout their lives, undoubtedly, they’ve had the opportunity to be in a position where a woman was in charge: either their mother or another family figure, a school teacher, a police officer, or work supervisor. The capacity is there. They know how to do it. They know how to respect someone with authority over them. Thus, they could respect a woman coach.
Then, the question is, would they?
I’m sorry, but if your answer is still, “no, the woman coach would not be respected,” then I have to say that the problem is the male athletes and not the woman coach.
(3) Would there be enough interest to warrant a Rooney-Rule?
I know I said I’d ignore this issue, but since students in the class brought up how there probably is not enough women interested in coaching men’s basketball to warrant a Rooney-Rule, I have to at least say something.
The sentiment is probably true, but it only has merit if the rule operated in the exact same fashion as the Rooney-Rule, requiring that a woman be interviewed for all vacant positions.
But, that view fails to consider that the rule could be modified to balance the level of interest in coaching with the interest of breaking down this gender barrier.
Here’s my quick solution:
Any woman interested in coaching a men’s sport submits their name for consideration to the NCAA, specifying what she thinks she is qualified to coach and where should would like to coach (examples: specific geographic regions, in a specific conference, specifically-named teams, teams based on success, etc.). The NCAA can then pre-screen the applicant to assure that at the bare-minimum, she would be worth consideration for the positions she has expressed interest. Then, if a team is looking to hire, they must consult the list, and if a woman candidate matches the school, she must be interviewed.
The system would prevent a team from being handcuffed by the obligation when no candidates are interested while simultaneously provide an avenue for qualified woman to enter into the league.
Sure, there may not be many women interested, but I would much rather that interest be the only roadblock than antiquated views about competence and leadership.
Three time Super Bowl Champion and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin made his most strong and public statement supporting the gay community. As part of the feature, Irvin revealed that his older, now deceased brother, Vaughn was a gay cross-dresser and discussed how the fear of any association with the gay community may have been one of the reasons he embraced the hyper-masculinized behavior during his playing days for which he was well known.
Irvin acknowledged some of the unfortunate stereotypes that drive behavior in male sports, “Growing up, whoever had the most women and the nicest car, he was the man,” he says. “So when you get in the locker room, you remember that. I’m gonna get all the girls so that everybody says, ‘Michael’s the man.’”
In addition, Irvin very honestly revealed how the knowledge of his brother’s sexuality and cross-dressing may have contributed to his womanizing behavior during his career: “maybe some of the issues I’ve had with so many women—just bringing women around so everybody can see—maybe that’s residual of the fear I had that, if my brother is wearing ladies’ clothes, am I going to be doing that? Is it genetic? I’m certainly not making excuses for my bad decisions. But I had to dive inside of me to find out why I was making these decisions, and that came up.”
This sort of revelation (and the subsequent discussion) rarely occurs in sports because so few athletes are as willing as Irvin to reveal their private insecurities and the insecurities that are so prevalent in male sports culture. By opening up, we (or they: the media, academics, organizations, etc.) can begin to discuss these issues in more depth, hopefully working to change the culture in sports.
Even though he is not gay, Irvin acknowledged the weight of the burden in hiding the truth that someone close to him was gay, “I was afraid to even let anyone have the thought. I can only imagine the agony—being a prisoner in your own mind — for someone who wants to come out. If I’m not gay and I am afraid to mention it, I can only imagine what an athlete must be going through if he is gay.”
But in recognizing how tough that must be for a gay closeted player, Irvin is committing his voice and support: “If anyone comes out in those top four major sports, I will absolutely support him,” says Irvin. “That’s why I do my radio show every day. When these issues come out, I want to have a voice to speak about them. I think growth comes when we share. Until we do that, we’re going to be stuck in the Dark Ages about a lot of things. When a guy steps up and says, ‘This is who I am,’ I guarantee you I’ll give him 100% support.”
In becoming and embracing his status as one of the most famous and well-known allies in all of sports, Irvin had very powerful and poignant words, with particular messages for the religious and African American communities.
Being passionate about gay rights is not always the easiest thing to do in any community, and I know Irvin has faced much opposition for doing so dating back to his early days as a radio host in Dallas.
I was fortunate to live in Dallas while he was on the air (he now is on WQAM in Miami). I can tell you that he is one of the most passionate and forthcoming personalities you will ever hear on air. He would have Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler (author of the Out Magazine feature) as a regular guest on the show and would defend doing so any time a caller would have something negative to say about having a gay guy as a guest on the show.
And, believe me, he certainly never shies away from sharing his love of God or talking about religion either. During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he referenced God 14 times. The next most referenced “person” was his wife, Sandy, who was mentioned twice. In wanting to eradicate homophobia in every corner of American society, Irvin “points to churches that have skewed the word of God to persecute those who don’t share their dogma.”
Irvin has his own approach for using his faith as a source to drive his advocacy: “The last thing I want is to go to God and have him ask, ‘What did you do?’ And I talk about winning Super Bowls and national titles,” Irvin says. “I didn’t do anything to make it a better world before I left? That would be scary.”
Irvin also “shakes his head at the black culture he says has gone adrift in a sea of homophobia.”
I had an interesting exchange with a young African American male this past week, so I’m especially grateful for Irvin’s timely message: “I don’t see how any African-American with any inkling of history can say that you don’t have the right to live your life how you want to live your life. No one should be telling you who you should love, no one should be telling you who you should be spending the rest of your life with. When we start talking about equality and everybody being treated equally, I don’t want to know an African-American who will say everybody doesn’t deserve equality.”
I can’t say enough about how incredible this feature was. I especially want to thank Cyd Zeigler from Outsports for this piece (as well as 3 of the other 4 pieces for this special issue). The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association just gave their 2011 Excellence in Journalism Awards. If Cyd isn’t nominated (and I’ll say win, pending what happens in the next 10 months) for this piece, it will be a travesty.
The Media + Internets Response
As you may know if you’ve read my blog at all, I’m always fascinated by how these types of pieces are received by the media and the general populace on the Internet. I often pay particular attention to what news outlets say (if anything at all), how anonymous users comment on articles, what is the response on Twitter, etc.
ESPN and Sports Illustrated passed on the story without adding much commentary. Not the ideal, but for the two leading sports news outlets, their first priority is to get the story posted. We’ll pay attention to what the main personalities of each has to say in the coming days.
Yahoo!’s Shutdown Corner noted Irvin’s passion, called it a “fascinating read,” and then closes with a nice jab to DeSean Jackson (thus, showing their support for Irvin’s message).
Deadspin called the feature “fantastic” and then compared the story to the DeSean debacle (a story which they broke) noting that they hoped the Irvin feature would “lead to more progress on the issue.”
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote my favorite piece on the feature thus far. Florio declares that PFT “admires” Irvin and that “it’s important for more and more people in positions of influence to express similar views, given that gay players certainly have played and are playing every type of professional sport, striving to keep that secret for fear of being bullied, berated, and ultimately rejected.”
Florio adds (and may I toot my own horn a bit, something I wrote in my 1st substantive post on this blog, “What will it take for an athlete to come out?”): “Tolerance needs to come from the top of the organization, along with a commitment at each level of management to insisting on an attitude and atmosphere of respect.” Amen, Florio.
Michael Irvin’s interview in Out Magazine is ______. What do you think? http://bit.ly/qg6mLp #IrvinInOut
Naturally, I decided to sample the mentions of @NFL for a bit to see the response. I’d say it was about a 80% positive, as you can see below.
RaiderFREAK86 (and 5 others): gay
Burrberri: ground-breaking #IrvinInOut
NewTattoo: It’s refreshing to have a sensible opinion from a(n ex) football player, given the ‘outpourings’ by more recent players.
RealFLYTE: Unselfish? Thoughtful?
WideRights (oh right, that’s me!): Amazing. Timely. Important.
Pattylopez1: awesome. Equality should be supported by all. #IrvinInOut
Rsjwilson: a step in the right direction
SherylA_Stephen: Michael Irvin’s interview in Out magazine is HONEST!
Rick_silva: Michael Irvin’s interview is disgraceful. This country is in a lot of trouble. I’d hate to be a kid growing up today. #IrvinInOut
Its_Sare_Marie: I think it’s progressive & very admirable of Michael Irvin to open himself up like that #IrvinInOut
Ncasports: A great statement for equality!
FarrisMom1: absolutely awesome
ACCEric: Pretty Cool
MsPinkLA: Wow, this story may save someone’s life!
AdamPalukaFOX23: a good thing.
Valvee74: AWESOME. About time.
JohnTCpsu: Absolutely, positively awesome.
Whew. And that was just during about an hour. Outsports reported that Adam Schefter, Steve Wyche, other colleagues (including Albert Breer, an OSU alum!) tweet support for Michael Irvin and that “Michael Irvin” is a top-5 trending term on Twitter today.
For Additional Reading
The rest of the features in Out Magazine weren’t as lengthy as the one on Irvin but they still provide a glimpse into the motivations of 4 other tremendous sports allies. Cyd Zeigler also writes 3 of the 4 features:
Ben Cohen: Action Man, by Aaron Hicklin
Hudson Taylor: Mission Possible, by Cyd Zeigler
Mike Chabala: The Equalizer, by Cyd Zeigler
Nick Youngquest: Full Exposure, by Cyd Zeigler
Additionally, Outsports has a little background piece to the Irvin article that talks about how it came to be.
After the Kobe Bryant incident this week, the Los Angeles Lakers have committed to working with GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to address homophobic remarks in the sport.
As Kobe stated in his interview on ESPN radio yesterday afternoon, it is now time to challenge the use of this type of language, and hopefully, use this event as an example to spur change. I was disappointed with Kobe’s initial non-apology, but if he follows through with this commitment, I will forgive him.
Here is the Lakers statement on what they hope to accomplish in working with GLAAD, from the GLAAD blog:
“What happened in Tuesday night’s game is not representative of what the Lakers stand for,” said Lakers spokesman John Black. “We want to reaffirm our commitment to all our fans and our appreciation for the support we receive from all segments of society. We also understand the importance of positive messages in helping us convey this. We appreciate the input we’ve received from GLAAD the past two days and will look forward to working with them on ways to help educate ourselves and our fans, and to help keep language like this out of our game.”
And from GLAAD:
“In light of this slur, there is a real opportunity to build support for our community and educate fans of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the NBA about the use of such words,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “The Los Angeles Lakers have taken a positive step and we look forward to working with them to create messages from players and coaches that combat bullying.
[Editor's note: As I have been extremely busy this April preparing for finals, I offered the opportunity for any readers to contribute their own thoughts on the topic of gay rights and sports. Marc Gofstein offered up his services and this is his first, of hopefully several, posts!]
So, it’s now been confirmed, Kobe Bryant did, indeed, call NBA referee Bennie Adams the aforementioned homophobic slur. We saw it with our own eyes, and various news outlets have confirmed what we saw. There is no disputing the evidence.
Was Bryant actually questioning Adams’ manhood? I highly doubt it. However, he also wasn’t uttering a term of endearment, either.
Well, Kobe Bryant has issued his apology. “What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.” How nice, I shouldn’t take it literally and it wasn’t meant to be offensive.
I must say I’m not surprised by his pseudo-apology. It’s the same type of non-apology apology that is typically made by a celebrity who was caught in the act. The public relations problem suddenly creates remorse. Of course what Bryant said shouldn’t be taken literally, just like former Dodgers’ executive, Al Campanis shouldn’t have been taken literally when he said that African Americans couldn’t be baseball managers or executives because they lacked the, “necessities,” for those positions, or that they couldn’t be competitive swimmers because, “they don’t have the buoyancy.”
Sports radio hosts have chimed in with their opinions and they all seem to follow the same line of reasoning. On ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt Show, host Van Pelt, along with co-host Ryen Russillo, essentially came to this conclusion. Kobe wasn’t uttering a slur, he was just letting off steam and, while the term is an anti-gay slur, he wasn’t really insulting the referee.
They continued to compare Bryant’s outburst to guy’s playing pick-up basketball and uttering similar terms, including f-g and the “N” word. They don’t mean anything, they’re just talking trash. Are you kidding me?
Van Pelt and Russillo, along with other ESPN personalities all seem to ignore one fact; Bryant’s outburst, and the subsequent discounting of what he said, have given every Kobe Bryant fan permission to scream the same slur to anyone they have a beef with. And, for many, that permission will be accompanied by physical action, which will also be dismissed as letting off steam. How convenient.
Yes, Kobe Bryant yelled a homophobic slur. I don’t care if he thinks we shouldn’t take it literally and I surely don’t accept his claim that it was frustration during the heat of the game. As for being offended, I’m not. I’m mad. However, unlike Bryant, I don’t feel the need to respond in the same manner that he chose. Let’s just say that I would like to see his apology followed by actions, which will demonstrate that he truly is sorry.
Openly gay columnist LZ Granderson, who frequently contributes to ESPN and CNN, joined Bill Simmons aka “The Sports Guy” for his January 11th podcast of “The B.S. Report”. (Archive of other BS Report shows here.)
The podcast is an hour long, and Granderson and Simmons spent the significant portion – the first 30 minutes – discussing the intersection of issues of sexual orientation in the realm of sports.
The expected topics were all covered: why a male athlete in the big 3 (football, basketball, and hockey) is not out, when that could be, if Granderson knows any closeted athletes, etc. I especially appreciate Granderson’s realistic perspective on the state of progress on several fronts.
They began their discussion under the timely connection with Steve Buckley, a Boston area sports columnist recently coming out. (Simmons is an unapologetic die-hard Boston sports fanatic.) Simmons offered his kudos to Buckley for writing the “I’m gay” column, but he also expected more from it now that so much progress has been made suggesting the column on its own isn’t quite news anymore.
Granderson’s response was superb. While it may not seem like much a story to someone who is a progressive thinker, like Simmons, that he is sure someone out there needed to hear Buckley’s mere words of honesty without additional commentary.
Simmons also asked, and I agree with his perspective here, is whether it may actually be a good career move for the right kind of athlete to come out. His hypothetical athlete was one of those athletes in the last third of their career, early 30s, maybe had a few all-star games in their day. Simmons felt that this kind of athlete could come out, while still playing, and become a hero for a community and also reap rewards, like a book deal and an ad or two, from a marketing perspective.
While I agree that Simmons is accurate in that it could be a beneficial career movie, again, Granderson offered some additional words to supplement the perspective. Granderson thinks it is more likely that it would be someone who wanted to move the conversation forward for societal gains, rather than for individual career gains.
(But for the record, Granderson believes it is more likely that an athlete will be outed by the media.)
Another question that everyone wants to know: how many closeted gay athletes are there? Simmons asks Granderson how many athletes have approached him to speak confidentially, seeking advice, etc.
Granderson responds that there are a handful of men in the top 3 sports. He said that sometimes they talk to him simply to blow off steam and sometimes to ask for advice. At one point, Granderson thought an athlete he knew may come out because they were in a relationship and wanted to be in a position to enjoy it without so much secrecy. That obviously has not occurred yet and Granderson is not sure if/when it will.
The two also discussed some of the differences with marketing in the WNBA and the stereotypical assumptions between male and female athletes.
Granderson is a fantastic individual for our community and I am glad Simmons invited him onto the podcast to further the discussion.