Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spread The Word To End The Word

Maybe we should be thanking Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah. Their use of the double F bomb anti-gay slur on national TV has certainly provided the opportunity for a national conversation in Guysportsworld about the causal use of anti-gay slurs by professional athletes. That “FF” so easily rolls off the tongue of male pro athletes like Kobe and Joakim tells us something about the culture of the men’s locker room and what happens when the TV cameras are off. Stressed and pissed off, “caught in the heat of the moment” both athletes dug down into their little bag of verbal insults and dragged out the one that they think carries the most sting and the one that is so common that it is right there on the tip of the tongue.

Thanks to GLSEN, the Ad Council, the NBA, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley another point of view is also out there airing during the NBA play offs and finals. Depressingly though, Grant Hill received some pretty ugly tweets from “fans” about his participation in the Think B4 You Speak PSA. He responded by pointing out that these reactions just illustrated the need for the message in the PSA. Grant Hill and Jared Dudley are giants to me. I cannot express my gratitude strongly enough for their willingness to speak out. Charles Barkley is another former NBA star who is speaking out against anti-slurs and prejudice in sports. I hope they paving the way for others to follow their lead.

These two articles, here and here, are interesting reactions by African-American sportswriters about the use of anti-gay slurs by African-American athletes. Casey Gane-McCalla is concerned about “scapegoating” young Black athletes. He seems to think that, because the use of anti-gay slurs is part of male sports culture from Pee Wee football to the pros as a way to put someone down as weak or soft, we should use let it go. Therefore, it isn’t really about gays, he seems to say. Really? He then shifts the blame to gay athletes who will not come out for the prevalence of homophobia in men’s team sports. Seriously?

Mike Freeman presents the position that Black athletes should know what it feels like to be targeted by slurs and should be able to make the connection that the N-word and F-word are both unacceptable. Unfortunately, some of us still get caught up in the oppression Olympics (can I use the word Olympic in this context without getting sued by the USOC) by arguing about who is more oppressed, Black people or LGBT people. Freeman makes the point, which I agree with, that it is not about determining whether the F-word or the N-word is more offensive. They are both offensive. Period. Plus, just because the two most recent and most publicized examples of athlete homophobia are Black men doesn’t mean that the use of the F-word is any more prevalent among Black athletes than white athletes. I am sure that Black and white athletes are equal opportunity users. It’s about changing sport culture for all athletes.

Let’s just hope that the media attention and the anonymous ignoramuses who call Grant Hill the F-word for taking a stand help sports organizations and individual athletes to better understand the need to set some higher standards of conduct for professional athletes, even in the “heat of the moment.” Young people are watching and learning. Young people are using the same words uttered by Kobe and Joakim to torment their classmates. Young people are killing themselves and getting beat up at school as a result. Professional athletes are role models. What they say and do matters. They can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Increasing numbers of straights athletes are choosing to be part of the solution. Let’s hope it catches on.

Here’s a cool PSA about name-calling from a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. Maybe we should play this for NBA rookie camp.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May: A Great Month for Gay Good News in Sports

Wow, it is difficult to even know where to start with all the gay happenings in sports this month. And I mean gay as in happy and gay as in sexual orientation. I’m talking about men’s professional team sports here for the most part: The place where some people think that a gay athlete could never come out and be accepted, where a gay athlete who is still an active player has never come out. I don’t think I can remember a month when it seems like there is so much happening that I can’t keep up. What a great feeling. OK, so here are some (I am sure I missed something) of the gay happenings in May (in no particular order):

Roger McDowell, Atlanta Braves coach, is suspended for some really stupid and homophobic remarks addressed to some fans in San Francisco. OK, the incident wasn’t so great, but the response was.

Former Olympian, Peter Vidmar, resigns as Chef de Mission for the London Olympic Games after his activism against marriage equality is revealed.

The New York Times features an article about straight ally athletes, Hudson Taylor and Ben Cohen, who are making major efforts to enlist straight athletes to stand up against homophobia in sport.

New York Ranger, Sean Avery, makes a public endorsement of marriage equality.

A Public Service Announcement by GLSEN and the NBA for the Think B4 You Speak Campaign featuring Grant Hill and Jared Dudley stands a stand against anti-gay name-calling in sports airs during the NBA play offs.

Phoenix Suns President, Rick Welts, comes out as a gay man and the Suns organization in general is cited for taking progressive stances on immigration reform and on anti-gay name-calling in sports with their participation in the GLSEN/NBA PSA.

Finally, Sean Chapin, who has been a persistent and effective LGBT rights advocate with his wonderful videos, has succeeded in getting the San Francisco Giants to make a video for the It Gets Better project.

It kinda makes you wonder what June will bring. Women athlete allies are you listening? May was for the guys, can we hear from more women athletes and women’s sports organizations in June?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Peter Vidmar Steps Down, Jessica Mendoza Steps Up

Peter Vidmar resigned yesterday, just eight days after being named chef de mission by the USOC for the London Olympic Games. Vidmar’s active participation in anti-marriage equality campaigns made his choice more controversial than either he or the USOC anticipated. Public reaction to his appointment made it clear that his anti-gay activism would make him and the USOC lightning rods for controversy and criticism. Vidmar has every right to express his views and support whatever causes he chooses. He just needs to understand that there are consequences to speaking out against people’s rights when you are asked to represent a diverse group of athletes, some of whom are the very people you would like to deny rights to.

One of the really gratifying aspects of this story for me is that Jessica Mendoza, Olympic medal winner and professional softball player, former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and current Changing the Game All-Star, really stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park (pardon the pun) on this. She wrote a column in ESPNW and proved herself to be an amazing ally to LGBT people in and out of sport.

I am sure Jessica got some negative reactions to her strong and public stand on this and I appreciate her courage and willingness to speak her mind. She is willing to take the criticism from those who disagree with her that Vidmar apparently did not see coming. Everyone who supports LGBT equality should thank Jessica Mendoza and let her know how much we need and appreciate the actions of allies like her. Thank you, Jessica!

Friday, May 6, 2011

USOC Chooses Anti-LGBT Activist as Chef De Mission

The United State Olympic Committee (USOC) has named former gold medal winning gymnast Peter Vidmar as chef de mission for the 2012 London Olympics. Vidmar, a Mormon, is a public opponent of extending the right to marry to lesbian and gay people. He donated $2,000 to the successful Prop 8 anti-gay marriage initiative in California in 2008 and spoke at a public rally opposing same-sex marriage. Johnny Weir, an openly gay Olympic figure skater criticized the USOC choice in an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Apparently the USOC was not aware of Vidmar’s public role in opposing same-sex marriage rights when they appointed him chef de mission. Now that it has been brought to their attention, the USOC has defended their choice of Vidmar citing his views as part of his protected freedom of religion rights and acknowledging that many Americans do not share his views.

The USOC might want to be a little more careful in the future in vetting the candidates for such a highly visible position that is supposed to represent all US Olympians at the Games. The impression is that the USOC does not consider opposition to LGBT rights that big of a deal. Certainly, it is not a disqualifier for being named to a very prestigious position. I don’t like to make comparisons between LGBT civil rights and other civil rights movements, like the Black civil rights movement, the women’s movement, or the disability rights movement to try to make the point that opposition to these civil rights issues would be a disqualifier. However, it is an indication, however faulty, of what the USOC priorities are. I don’t believe they would have supported a chef de mission who opposed these civil rights movements.

Let’s not forget that in the early 80’s the USOC sued what was then called “The Gay Olympics” over the use of the word “Olympic.” That quadrennial event is now called the “Gay Games” as a result. Never mind that the USOC had no objection to the use of “Olympics” to describe other competitions like hot dog eating contests, the Police Olympics or the Special Olympics.

Yes, Peter Vidmar has a right to his anti-gay views. I even support his right to express them, but please, don’t try to have it both ways. In the Tribune article Vidmar claims, ``I fully respect the rights of everyone to have the relationships they want to have. I respect the rights of all our athletes, regardless of their race, their religion or their sexual orientation. I will cheer and do all I can, passionately, for every athlete on the U.S. Olympic team.'' If he really “respected the rights” of LGBT people, he wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars and be speaking out publicly to prevent us from having equal marriage rights.

The USOC has made a public statement in choosing Vidmar: They don’t consider public opposition to LGBT rights in or out of sport to be of great importance. It’s just a matter of personal opinion and religious freedom. That the USOC is comfortable with an anti-LGBT activist representing the USOC and all USA Olympians in London is a sad commentary on their commitment to LGBT equality in sport. No wonder so many LGBT Olympians choose to compete from the closet.