TAG | OutSports
Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has joined seven other NHL stars in a video promoting the message of a new non-profit organization: the “You Can Play Project.”
You Can Play is co-founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke who, along with his father Brian Burke (GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs), is carrying on the commitment to fight for equality of LGBT athletes after the death of his younger brother Brendan.
You Can Play’s mission:
You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.
You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.
You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.
The organization’s website includes numerous other resources, including an ally pledge and a captain’s challenge. The Project is also going to do something similar to the “It Gets Better” project—finding athletes, coaches, etc. to record promotional videos—except the focus will be narrowed to the simple message that sexual orientation will not be considered in evaluating your capacity to play sports.
In an interview with Outsports, Burke explains that the athletes he has worked with have been more supportive of this narrow message: “Some athletes who might support a gay teammate might not be on board with gay marriage or don’t want to deal with those issues. We’re just getting athletes to say they want the best teammates and the other stuff doesn’t matter. And they know they’ll never have to take a position on gay marriage or march in a pride parade. They can just say they want a safe locker room and not have to do anything else.”
A 30-second initial video (shot and produced by HBO, a partner of You Can Play) will air on national television during the 1st intermission of the NBC telecast of the NY Rangers v. Boston Bruins today, March 4.
You can watch the full-length, 60-second video here:
Like the “Don’t Say Gay” PSA that aired during the NBA Finals, it is absolutely incredible to have a video with this message airing during a national telecast. It actually leaves me speechless.
Aside from Nash, the video also features Patrick and Brian Burke, Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks), Brian Boyle (New York Rangers), Matt Moulson (New York Islanders), Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators), Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia), Corey Perry (Anaheim), Andy Greene (New Jersey Devils), Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers).
You Can Play’s advisory board also includes some notable names: John Buccigross (ESPN Sportscenter anchor), LZ Granderson (CNN/ESPN columnist), David Testo (recently out professional soccer player), Rick Welts (out President of the Golden State Warriors), among others.
What an amazing topic to write about for my first blog post for the 3rd year of this blog: Dave Testo, a former MLS player of the Columbus Crew, comes out! I first saw the news in Outsports, which linked to two news sources: a Canadian news article (unfortunately in French, so you’ll have to run it through a translator to read) and an interview.
Outsports quoted a portion of Testo’s remarks as translated:
“I really regret not having said publicly earlier. I fought with it all my life, my whole career. Living the life of a professional athlete and being gay is incredibly difficult. It is like wearing a secret in his bags but never yourself. It saps all your energy to you, in addition to having to perform, having to play.”
From the interview segment, Testo added:
“It’s made me realize that life is so much greater than just soccer and winning and losing. It’s about the relationships you build with the people around you. In the end, when you’re laying down on your death bed, it’s not about how much money you’ve made, how many wins you have, any of that. You want to know those connections you had to people and the difference you made in people’s lives.”
Testo becomes the first American professional soccer player to come out, and in doing so, MLS joins MLB (Billy Bean), NBA (John Amaechi), and NFL (Dave Kopay, Esera Tuaolo, Roy Simmons) as having a former player come out. Come on NHL!
Unlike the other athletes who have come out after retiring Testo is still active in his professional pursuits. While he is not currently on an MLS roster, he most recently played with the Montreal Impact—a team joining the MLS next season.
It’s a shame he is no longer on the Impact roster, as his coming out would be even more groundbreaking if he was openly gay and on an active, professional, male-team-sport roster. Regardless, at only age 30, he still has a chance to make it back to the MLS ranks, and I hope he is able to do so!
Testo’s coming out contributes to the incremental tearing down of the gay-barrier in sports. The incremental progress lends to the question: what could be next?
A retired NHL player
An obvious progression would be for a retired NHL player to come out. In many respects the NHL has shown to be the most accepting environments of the main professional sports leagues. Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers (and the subject of my previous blog post), cited to a 2006 Sports Illustrated study that nearly 80% of NHL players would support an openly gay teammate. He attributes this significant percentage to how the NHL is different from the other major professional sports leagues in America: many of the players are foreign, coming from more liberal countries.
As the culture of hockey is more progressive (contrary to the rough-and-tough image of the sport/players), I think this could happen easily within the next year.
A “big-name” retired player
While everyone is waiting for the first active player to come out, I think a step that needs to (and will have to) happen first is a “big-name” retired player coming out. “Big-name” being a name those who follow the sport only superficially would know. A player that is a regular starter, that makes the all-star tournament, that might go to a hall of fame.
To date, the names of those who have come out are really only known because they came out. Bean, Amaechi, Kopay, Tuaolo, Simmons, and now Testo, were not household names during their playing careers. They weren’t All-Stars, Pro Bowlers, or Hall of Famers. These are the types of players that would have legitimate worries about coming out while still playing. They were expendable.
In order for a player of comparable caliber to feel safe coming out while playing, a big-name player needs to come out, even if while retired, to send the message, “Yeah, I’m gay, and guess what, I was an all-star, am in the hall of fame, and helped my team win championships.”
In some respects, it’s sad that we value winning and success so much that this matters. We—the fans, media, society, teammates, etc.—should support a guy on the verge of being cut as much as we’d support the player we’ve known and cheered for years. But the reality is that the amount of impact a coming out has is proportionate to the caliber of the player.
So, with that, we need that “big-name” player to come out. And believe me, they’re out there.
Like a retired NHL player coming out, I think this could happen in the next year.
An active player
Many consider an active male player on a professional American team coming out to be THE story. It could be the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and maybe even MLS (or, for soccer, an EPL player coming out would have even more impact, especially globally).
That is going to be, supposedly, the quintessential moment that officially marks “the gay barrier” being torn down. At that point, all of those questions that people have only theorized about are faced: What does the team/league do? How do teammates react? What about the locker room and the showers? How do fans react (both supporting the team and rivals)? How do opponents on the field/ice/court react? How does the player play? How does the media cover the player?
So far, all of these questions have been answered with speculation.
And that speculation continues in trying to answer when this will happen and what sport it will be in.
My opinion: it will happen within 5 years, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if I read about it tomorrow.
Vincent Pryor, who was a linebacker at Texas Christian University in the early 1990s, set the team record for most sacks in a game (4 ½) and came out to his team in 1994.
Outsports’ Jim Buzinski tells Pryor’s story 17 years later in the piece, “TCU’s Vincent Pryor set school sack record after coming out as gay.”
It’s an absolutely phenomenal read with Pryor telling his story of coming out to his team and the response he received.
It’s amazing that someone was out to his team that long ago, and yet today, we are still waiting for a prominent pro male athlete to be out publicly.
I’ve excerpted my favorite bits, but for excellent pieces like this one, I’d highly recommend reading it in its entirety.
On when he knew he was gay and was first discovered:
”There was a person I was picking on one time and I remember I was going to go to the bathroom to give him a hard time,” Pryor says. “When I got into the bathroom, I called him faggot, gay and other stuff. He just looked at me and he said, ‘Vincent, why are you calling me all these things when you’re just like me?’ And I went ‘Whoa! What in the world?’ He then kissed me on my lips right there and I went, ‘Uh-oh.’ It was weird because it kind of brought down my defense shield a little bit.”
On why he didn’t come out until now:
Vincent Pryor has no reason why he waited 17 years to recount his coming out. It wasn’t shame – he was out on his team and has lived as an openly gay man since. . . . Seeing the rash of gay teen suicides and wanting to make a difference inspired Pryor to reach out to Outsports and tell his story.
On how he remained in the closet at TCU and how his coming out challenges stereotypes:
“It really was kind of amazing the way it all worked,” said [social work professor Linda] Moore, who has been at TCU for 30 years and has worked extensively with the athletic program as an academic adviser. “What is he? 6-3, 260? Something ridiculous. D-end, big, huge, black guy. So, of course he can’t be gay. And he put up a great front for the first three years he was at TCU. He was sneaking off to Dallas to go to the gay bars, but he was womanizing at TCU, then was involved with a woman for a couple of years.”
On coming out to his team (my favorite part of the piece):
Midway through the 1994 season, Pryor decided he had had enough of hiding. He was ready to come out and found his vehicle. It was an ecumenical exchange held on campus, a meeting of students from area schools from various religious denominations. The subject that year was homosexuality. “This was going to be my stand and how I was going to come out to the world,” Pryor said.
The idea was for people who were gay to raise their hands and then go up on stage and introduce themselves. “I walked up and said, ‘Hello, I’m Vincent Pryor, football player for Texas Christian University.’ … I then forget what happened after that point. I was probably too stunned to remember anything.”
There were a lot of football players at the conference since they got course credit, so Pryor’s news spread quickly. A few days later, Pryor came out as a special guest in one of Moore’s classes, where he spent 20 minutes discussing his journey. Among the students were several football players and one assistant coach. Moore remembers the day vividly.
“One of the assistant football coaches came in. You could see the students thinking, ‘Just try it. Say one negative thing and we’re gonna kick your butt.’ We were all prepared to defend [Pryor]. … The coach raises his hand and the whole room turns towards him, and he says, ‘Well, my brother is gay.’ And he deflated the entire room. And he said that it was just so important to be supportive. I think Vince was a little bit shocked by it too.”
Pryor remembers the level of support he received in the class, with one teammate saying, “ ‘I don’t care. As long as he makes tackles I don’t have a problem with that.’ It was very, very nonchalant.”
. . . He did hear from his position coach, who ominously called Pryor into his office days after he had come out in Moore’s class. He described the coach as a tough, no-nonsense man with a military bearing.
“Vincent. Is it true? Did you go out and tell everybody you were a homosexual?” Pryor remembers the coach saying. His reply: “I didn’t tell everybody I was homosexual. I told them I was gay.”
“As he’s chewing his tobacco, he says: ‘Man, that’s huge. You got a huge set of balls to be able to do that. I respect you. Me and my wife were thinking there was something wrong with you. We thought that this was what it was, but we didn’t really know. I’m glad that you were able to come to terms with that.’ ”
On Pryor’s performance on the field after coming out:
“He was a beast” on the field, said Marcus Allen, Pryor’s teammate and the team’s middle linebacker. “I do believe that once he came out of the closet, he did feel relieved. You did notice something different about him. He was always happy, he felt good about himself, he felt like didn’t have anything to hide.”
Yesterday (July 24, 2011) was the gayest night in Major League Soccer history with both the Columbus Crew and Chivas USA (in Los Angeles) hosting “Pride Nights.” The support of the community put both clubs in the good graces of the soccer gods as each came out victorious, Columbus defeating the Portland Timbers 1-0 and Chivas USA beating the Houston Dynamo 3-0.
Outsports was one of the sponsors of the Chivas game and reported on the incredible visibility granted to the community at the game: “the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus beautifully performed the national anthem; The It Gets Better Project was given a booth on the main concourse and they promoted their project all night long; And the cheerleaders performed their halftime routine to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way.’”
Additionally, Chivas’ Justin Braun—who posed for the NOH8 campaign earlier this month—scored a hat trick! (NOH8 also was taking their iconic photos at a pre-game reception.)
See how supporting the gay community can be great for your career/team?
The Columbus Crew continued the theme as Eddie Gaven scored the game-winner in the 79th minute. I was fortunate to be at the game. A special thank you has to go out to Outlook Columbus and Innova Financial Group who helped make the event happen.
As I’ve written countless times in relation to these “Pride Nights,” if it’s only a means to sell tickets, I’m not that impressed. But when the teams embrace the theme and go beyond ticket sales, I am proud and thankful.
Chivas certainly did a wonderful job. The Crew also had the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus to sing the national anthem.
When they did, they made the announcement (it went something like this): “In celebration of Pride Night, to sing the national anthem, the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.”
The song played over the speakers right before the 2nd half also happened to be Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I don’t know if that was intentional for the night or whether it’s the sheer popularity of Gaga, but I appreciated it nonetheless.
My iPhone doesn’t exactly take the best photos, but these two show: (1) the chorus singing the anthem and (2) a group that were displaying the rainbow flag proudly on the opposite stands.
(I’ll keep an eye out for better photos taken by Outlook Columbus or others.)
I believe this makes Columbus the first city to have all of its professional teams host a “Pride Night” as the Clippers (Triple A minor league team) and the Blue Jackets have also done so. If anything, the Columbus teams are doing an excellent job of including and recognizing the gay community as an important part of the fan base. Now we just need the Buckeye to do something.
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.