TAG | Sports Illustrated
*Dusts off keyboard*
A quick reminder: as I go through these lapses in writing (from a lack of motivation, being too busy with school, and/or nothing especially newsworthy happening), be sure to follow updates on Facebook and Twitter as I will continue to forward what news I come across that doesn’t warrant a full blog post.
This interview given by Patrick Burke, however, definitely warrants whatever promotion I can give it with a full-fledged post.
The Burke family continues to be the leading force in changing the environment for gay athletes in hockey. The coming out of Brendan followed by Patrick and Brian assuming roles as vocal advocates after Brendan tragically died feels to me as what will be known as the catalyst leading to a gay player coming out while actively playing in the NHL.
The Canadian news company, CTV News, posted an excellent segment interviewing Patrick about his brother, continuing the cause, and the state of homophobia in hockey.
(The associated article highlights the points made by Patrick, but I think it is well-worth the time to watch the video of the interview.)
For my favorite bit of the interview, when asked why it would be so valuable for a hockey player (especially with how revered hockey players are in Canada) to come out, Patrick responds: “Athletes in general have such a strong stature and cross so many borders and boundaries in our culture. They’re one of the few groups that can be involved politically, and be involved in the music industry, and be on TV. And they can go into lots of other arenas that other people just can’t.”
Patrick continues: “In addition, they’re seen as masculine role models—masculine stereotypes for male athletes. And when there’s an unfortunate stereotype—that a lot of gay people are more feminine and less masculine—having a masculine athlete for a role model would be a huge step forward.”
While I would like to think that stereotypes would not be the source for perpetuating homophobia, I know the prevalent stereotype of an effeminate gay man fuels the prejudice. Homophobes see the effeminate gay man as a group easily quantifiable and excludable. It’s easy to create an ‘us versus them’ mentality because the masculine homophobe sees nothing in common with an effeminate gay man.
By coming out a masculine athlete sends two important messages: First, it challenges the stereotype of a gay man, making gay people more relatable to a larger number of people.
Second, and more importantly in my view, an athlete coming out gives closeted youth someone to look up to.
The reason I find the second message more important is because while the first message indirectly leads to a gradual shift towards full acceptance and equality for the gay community, the second message directly affects those most in need of a role model.
Going back to Patrick’s interview, following the message that coming out is important, the discussion then becomes: could an athlete come out?
Patrick cites a 2006 Sports Illustrated survey that found almost 80% of NHL players would support a gay teammate (the highest of the four major sports). Patrick describes the current locker room setting as having too much “casual homophobia,” including slurs being used too often.
Based on his delivery before going in a different direction (and I’m fully speculating here), it seemed as if he was trying to suggest that the “casual homophobia,” while unacceptable, is more rooted in habit than an indication of the actual culture of the sport. And accordingly, the habitual homophobia should not be interpreted as an obstacle for an athlete to come out.
Patrick closes talking about the awareness and education he does with the great organization GForce.
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.
The Supreme Court issued its opinion in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League today, declaring that the NFL is not a single-entity of the collective teams and cannot grant exclusive use of the individual teams’ colors and logos (as was the case with Reebok being the single manufacturer of official NFL apparel for all teams between 2000 and 2010). The Court remanded the case to the district court to determine if the NFL acted reasonably or if the anti-competition violates the Sherman Act.
Retiring Justice Stevens, writing for the unanimous court, held that the NFL and NFL Properties—the company set up to manage the collection of teams licensing—violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The holdings of the case were made on the distinction between independent actions, which are okay, and concerted actions, which are not.
Stevens writes: “The NFL teams do not possess either the unitary decision making quality or the single aggregation of economic power characteristic of independent action. Each of the teams is a substantial, independently owned, and independently managed business.”
The competition between the teams, beyond being opponents on the field but also competing for fans, revenue from marketing, etc., was integral to the Court’s holding. “Directly relevant to this case, the teams compete in the market for intellectual property. To a firm making hats, the Saints and the Colts are two potentially competing suppliers of valuable trademarks. When each NFL team licenses its intellectual property, it is not pursuing the ‘common interests of the whole’ league but is instead pursuing interests of each ‘corporation itself,’ teams are acting as ‘separate economic actors pursuing separate economic interests,’ and each team therefore is a potential ‘independent cente[r] of decision making.’”
Simply summarized: each NFL team owns their respective intellectual property and the NFL, by acting as a single-entity for all the teams combined, stifles the competition that should exist for teams to individually contract their own apparel licenses.
The NFL also argued three additional points, all shot-down by the Court: (1) the formation of NFL Properties was akin to an acceptable merger, (2) they have been acting as this single entity, promoting the common interest of the league for quite some time, and (3) without the cooperation as a single entity, there would be no NFL.
To (1), the Court said you cannot evade anti-trust law by simply creating a new company as it would allow anyone to do so in any industry.
To (2), the Court said “history of concerted activity does not immunize conduct from §1 [of the Sherman Act] scrutiny.”
To (3), the Court basically says the cooperation needed to maintain the league is irrelevant to these matters.
I agree entirely. As I first wrote when this case was presented to the Court in January, “In many ways, major sports leagues do need some protection from antitrust suits; however, that protection should not extend to areas where the competitive business arena is sufficient. Areas where teams must agree to cooperate, or act as a single entity, in order for the league to function does not include licensing agreements.”
Well you may be wondering, what now?
First, the case was remanded back to the district court to determine if the league, acting in a concerted way, acted reasonable or if the actions negatively affected competition (led to increased prices, etc.). The NFL issued a statement this afternoon saying: “We remain confident we will ultimately prevail because the league decision about how best to promote the NFL was reasonable, pro-competitive, and entirely lawful.”
Sorry, but I disagree. It was not pro-competition and certainly not necessary for the league to function. Each team managing its own trademark licensing would be the best for competition.
In the NFL’s statement, they also noted that the “decision has no bearing on collective bargaining, which is governed by labor law.” This is important, since the CBA negotiations is a hot topic right now with many curious minds. In this regard, the league is correct: these are two completely unrelated topics with no bearing on each other.
Second, assuming the district court rules, as I think it will, that leagues do not need anti-trust exemption for exclusive marketing deals for teams, what will be the consequences?
Will Adidas, Nike, and other companies shop their services to particular teams? Will there be a massive revamp of uniforms and apparel across the league? Will we see the return of head coaches wearing suits (as originally barred entirely by the agreement with Reebok only to be given a 2-game exemption)? Will Bill Belichick get a new selection of hoodies to wear?
And here’s a really big question: will some company use this precedent to try to chip away at MLB’s anti-trust exemption that is superior to all the other sports leagues? I think so, especially on the Court’s holding about the history of concerted actions. If the other professional leagues do not need protection beyond what is necessary to function, why should the MLB maintain those protections?
It will be interesting to see what the district court does and how it will affect the NFL, and all other professional leagues. If you want to read more, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times have two of the first and best substantive analyses of the situation.
It’s been relatively slow in the world of gay rights and the sports industry lately.
Sure, the NBA and NHL playoffs are heating up; GetEqual’s DADT rallies and protests continue every day; and it leaked that country music star Chely Wright was the surprise celebrity set to come out on May 5th. But none of that really captured my interest; at least not enough to write about.
This story posted by Outsports today, however, is quite interesting.
Ads from Manhunt, one of the most popular gay dating sites on the web, are appearing on Sports Illustrated’s website. Per the Outsports article, a Manhunt representative said the ads weren’t specifically targeted at SI, but they ended up there through the marketing package Manhunt purchased.
I love this. Anytime gay culture and the sports industry mix, I am happy. And I am especially curious to find out how the ad will be received.
Is it getting hits? Do the straight guys on the site even see it? When they see it, do they get offended, disgusted, or curious?
And if the ads become noticed, will there be any backlash or commentary about it? I know at one point, Outsports had general advertising on their site and an anti-gay organization made it on their page. Readers were annoyed and Outsports changed their ad preferences in response. Will SI do the same if its viewers express concern?
Generally, when I want to merely forward a story, I simply post the link on this site’s Facebook page. I usually reserve making an actual post to instances when I have my own thoughts to add. However, this article written by Michael Farber for Sport Illustrated titled, “Man Of His Word,” referring to Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, warranted more than a mere forward.
The coming out and passing of his son Brendan Burke has been an emotional roller coaster for those that did not even know Brendan or his family. Personally, it is the most I’ve ever been affected by the passing of someone I did not know.
Farber’s style of writing is superb, especially displayed in his description of Brian and the influence that Brendan will have, even in death. I’ll let you read most of the article on your own, but this excerpt is my favorite and must be shared:
“After Brendan publicly revealed his sexual preference, Brian was flooded with requests to do advocacy work on behalf of gays. He told the groups that while he supported his son, he had other causes: land conservation, blood donation and children’s literacy. He didn’t want to dilute that work. This, too, changed on that Friday in February [when Brendan passed].
“Brendan’s causes are Brian’s now. He will do a public-service announcement aimed at eliminating the bullying of gay children. And he plans to march in the Toronto Pride Parade. ‘I’d promised him I would march with him,’ says Burke, who briefly left the Olympics last Friday to attend a memorial service for Brendan at Miami of Ohio. ‘He won’t be there, but I will.’”