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Okay, so it seems that “summer hiatus” became an “indefinite hiatus.” But, if you’ve done what I’ve said and you ‘follow’ WideRights on Twitter and ‘like’ WideRights on Facebook, you know that I am not dead and that I still actively follow this subject, provide commentary when I feel like it, and love engaging in discussions about it.
As far as writing new content for this blog, studying for and taking the bar exam was a completely justifiable excuse to put anything substantive on hold. But that time has come and gone. (I passed and am now a real, grown-up attorney for the Columbus Blue Jackets!)
The reasons I haven’t continued to write—since being done with the exam—are several, but most of all, I felt like I ran out of things to say. All the topics started to become repetitive: “Ally does something awesome!” “Random athlete comes out!” “Homophobe does something bigoted and idiotic!”
Of course, sharing those stories is important; the progress and growth for LGBT awareness and discussion is sport is absolutely awesome. Chris Kluwe shot onto the scene as a major ally. You Can Play continues to do wonderful things in sports. Several athletes have come out. Even with those developments I felt that Facebook and Twitter do a better job for sharing those stories.
I always wanted this blog to be more than just a collection of news stories. I wanted to add a certain perspective to them. The academic rigors of law school blended well with that goal. During that time in school, I was more inquisitive and felt more of a need to inject an intellectual perspective to things.
But again, you can only comment on a new ally, new homophobic, or new out athlete in so many ways. When it felt like I had a cookie-cutter blog ready for any new development, I knew I’d taken the blog as far as I wanted it to go.
I’ve considered expanding on what I’ve done with the blog, perhaps to provide more and different content and resources. But right now, I’m focused on other things. I’m focused on making the most of the fortunate opportunity I have to work for a professional sports organization. I’m focused on learning as a new attorney, building networks within the community, and discussing these topics on an internal and local level.
So why now? I mean, after all, I have considered writing this post for a while. Well, since you asked, it’s because I have done some writing recently for another publication and want to share it!
In anticipation of “An Evening with Chris Kluwe”—Monday, April 8, 5pm, at the Archie M. Griffin East Ballroom at the Ohio Union [Facebook Event Page], I was given the opportunity to interview him. While I’m quite an amateur at interviewing (and holy cow did it show in the recorded phone call), I really wanted the chance. I think the feature turned out great, and you can read it here, published for Outlook Columbus.
Not sure when I’ll update this mess again. I may tweak this web page a bit to make it look more like an official blog archive while also featuring Twitter and Facebook updates so you know I’m still alive and active.
Just hours after You Can Play unveiled another video with eight NHL players—including Blue Jacket RJ Umberger—expressing their support of gay athletes (video below), Umberger scored the first goal just 3:41 into the Blue Jackets “Pride Night” game against the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers. Umberger then closed the show with an empty netter with 48 seconds to go, giving the Blue Jackets the 4-1 victory.
(Also, fitting the theme, that last goal was assisted by fellow You Can Play supporter, Blue Jacket captain Rick Nash, furthering my theory that the sports gods appreciate sports allies, particularly on “pride night” events.)
The Blue Jackets have really embraced the opportunity to be “spoilers,” even after clinching 30th place (that is last place for the non-NHL fan) a while ago. In fact, in the past 27 games, the team is 13-13-1. Considering that the team’s overall record is 26-45-7, at least they are finishing on a somewhat stronger note.
The continued effort by the team is noticeable. Rick Nash, who I don’t think anyone would blame for giving a half-ass effort after all the trade drama and the current state of the team, is still going out every night and playing hard. Allen York—the Blue Jackets 3rd/4th goal tender who has had to step up after injuries to Mason and Sanford—is playing well and stopped 30 of 31 shots on the night.
That hustle by the team was most notable in killing 1:40 of a 5-on-3 Panthers power play in the 1st period. A friend of mine came up from Florida for the game (he is a Panthers fan), and he noted that the Panthers are generally a good power play scoring team. And of course the Blue Jackets aren’t the greatest penalty killing team. It was just another example of what was great effort and a great game and win for the home team.
As far as the other “pride night” festivities, I do not know how it went. As I noted in my previous post, the format of this pride night compared to last season was a bit underwhelming. The group was offered tickets in a variety of sections, so I doubt there was any cohesive gay cheering group. There was no post-game LGBT game on the ice. There was a happy hour pre-game, but I did not attend. (I will be on the lookout for any photos/reports that come out about it.) (EDIT: Stonewall Columbus posted a few photos from the happy hour on Facebook.) Oh, of course, since it was a group attending the game, the scoreboard did flash “Welcome Pride Night participants” during the 2nd intermission amongst the gaggle of other groups.
I did, however, have tremendous seats to the game (thanks to my previously mentioned friend from Florida who knew a guy, who knew a guy)! We were sitting just a few rows behind the penalty boxes, right at center ice. Did you know that those highfalutin sections have like a private little lounge that gives out free popcorn and ice cream?! The bathrooms were nicer than the regular concourse ones too, I must say. I was definitely not used to that sort of treatment. And from the perspective of viewing the game, while I sometimes appreciate seats higher up to be able to follow the puck better, there were times when being that close really gave a sense of what the goalies and players are seeing on shots.
Oh, oh, oh, and before I forget: apparently twitter follower Bryan Blaskie’s (straight) parents were on the kiss cam! So, kudos to their kisses!
While the public focused on the major financial issues resolved in the new NFL collective bargaining agreement—revenue sharing, the salary cap, and a rookie wage scale—one change was the most newsworthy in my view: adding “sexual orientation” to the list of classifications protected from discrimination.
The language from the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement Article VII, Player Security, reads :
Section 1. No Discrimination: There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.
The new language in the 2011 CBA, now moved to Article 49, reads:
Section 1. No Discrimination: There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.
(For a little linguistic aside, note the addition of the serial comma prior to “or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.” While this could just be a stylistic change in drafting to include the comma, which is best, I need to add—I didn’t check any other lists of more than three items anywhere else in the document for consistency—it makes me chuckle a bit thinking that someone may have insisted on adding the comma to clarify that it wasn’t “sexual orientation or activity” that was being protected.)
Anyway, I remember reading the language in the 2006 CBA a few years back and hoping that this change would be made in the new agreement. In fact, if I may, in my second post on this blog, on November 7, 2009, I asked the question, “What will it take for an athlete to come out?” writing that one of five necessary developments would be increased support from sports organizations.
In that post, I wrote:
I understand that the sports industry is a money-making machine and that each league and team fears supporting gay rights would affect their bottom line. But what about the player’s associations? Do they have to wait for a player to come out in order to press for discrimination protections to be incorporated into the collective bargaining agreements? Obviously, they could do it now; there is just no pressure to do so. They act on what they know their players want, and without a player stepping forward for protection of gay players, they have nothing to act on. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but I’d think an organization with the purpose of protecting the interest of its members may act on the behalf of a silent minority. Maybe they haven’t thought about it.
Fast-forward to 2011 and it happened.
Honestly, with the focus of the lockout and labor negotiations being on so many financial matters, I did not expect any progress to be made on the issue. (It’s partially the reason I didn’t compare the language—which has been available for weeks now—until now.)
With that, I obviously was curious how it came to be.
Could it have been New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft?
After all, Kraft was one of the most integral parties in the CBA negotiations and has a history of supporting the LGBT community. Yahoo! Sports wrote an incredible piece about Kraft’s involvement in securing the new CBA, passing along this great bit: Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian wrote a letter to Kraft which read, “This CBA, and the great future it provides to the NFL, would not, could not have been done without you. Everyone in the league owes you a debt of gratitude.” Kraft’s support of the LGBT community has been documented before by this blog.
Maybe it was Ted Olson and David Boies?
Olson and Boies are the two lead attorneys of the case challenging the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California. They also were on opposite sides of the NFL negotiations (Boies with the owners and Olson with the players).
Could it have been Scott Fujita?
After all, Fujita is the NFLPA rep for the Cleveland Browns and is one of the most outspoken LGBT allies in the sport.
Thankfully, with Twitter making athletes more accessible these days, I was fortunate to exchange a few messages with Fujita. Hoping he might know, I asked him if he had any idea who brought it up, if there was any opposition to adding the language, or if there was any substantial discussion on the subject.
Not aware of any discussion on that. Our counsel is pretty progressive & on top of such issues, so I imagine this was worked out during the “lawyer” discussions when players weren’t around. There were multiple layers/rounds of discussions, and once Brady case was settled we entered into CBA related “union” discussions. At this pt players were in training camp, so we couldn’t be as involved, unfortunately.
Well, I guess it wasn’t Fujita. So maybe it was the lawyers. Or maybe it was Kraft. Or maybe someone we’d never expect.
And that being the extent of my investigatory journalism efforts (and connections), I/we may never know.
Regardless of how it came to be, the progress is there. Having explicit language protecting the class is a big step towards helping a player come out while actively playing. There may still be fears of abuse from fans or opposing players, but at least a gay player can be protected from being cut from a team, or from any other adverse action, coming from the organizational level. (I’m assuming there is some strong enforcement/remedy provision in the CBA to give the non-discrimination language some teeth.)
With allies like Kraft and Fujita in the game, we’ll get there.
James Harrison, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers who has been under fire for a scathing interview he did in Men’s Journal, issued an apology today, posted on Twitter by NFL reporter Josina Anderson.
In his apology, Harrison stated, “the handful of words that were used and heavily publicized yesterday were pulled out of a long conversation and the context was lost.” He better backtrack on his remarks because he had a slew of critical remarks directed at his teammates.
He also included this homophobic bit directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in response discussing fines Harrison received for excessively dangerous hits (see Men’s Journal article page 2):
“They take 10 plays out of 4,000 snaps and want to know my thought process on each,” he says. “What I tried to explain to Goodell, but he was too stupid to understand, is that dudes crouch when you go to hit them. With Massaquoi, my target area was his waist and chest, but he lowered himself at the last possible second and I couldn’t adjust to his adjustment. But Goodell, who’s a devil, ain’t hearing that. Where’s the damn discretion, the common sense?”
He goes on in cold fury, spitting curses and charges, none of which will earn him sympathy from the “devil” or endorsements for Double Stuf Oreos. “Faggot Goodell” (also described as a “punk” and “dictator” by Harrison), Anderson (“another dummy who never played a down”), and Hanks, a former Pro Bowl safety with the Niners (“he needs to be ashamed because he played D before, though he never was what you’d call a real hitter”), conspired, he says, to target the Steelers, who have “too much force, too much swag, and are predominantly black.”
In regards to use of “faggot,” Harrison included this in his apology:
I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people.
Yes, Harrison was careless. Yes, Harrison apologized. Is Harrison a homophobic bigot? I can’t say for certain.
But mostly, I’m sick of athletes—or anyone for that matter—saying that using “faggot” is not intended to be derogatory. No matter your intent, it IS derogatory and needs to stop.
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.