Tag Archives: football

Michael Sam: Black History Hero, Feb. 14, 2014

14 Feb

MSamBHMHeroThis week it is a real pleasure to honor a Hero of the Week who is also making strides in Black History. Michael Sam was born in 1990 in Texas. The seventh of eight children, he has faced significant family hardship. His parents separated when he was little. One brother died from a gunshot in front of him, another is missing, and two are incarcerated. Sam discovered a talent for football in high school, but met opposition from his mother, whose religion is opposed to organized sports. Often he had to stay with friends.

A promising player, Sam was accepted into the University of Missouri and joined their football team in 2009, the first member of his family to attend college. During his time on the team, he racked up an enviable record, including being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. (Wow, I don’t think I have ever used this many sports terms in my life.) He is considered a top choice for the NFL draft.

Michael Sam put that promising career at risk with bold honesty. Last August, he told his team that he was gay. They were very supportive and agreed to let him come out publicly on his own time — Bravo! Last Sunday, he did just that. He is one of a handful of openly gay college athletes and, if drafted, would be come the first out gay player active in the NFL.

Coming out is still, sadly, a challenge and a risk. It is even more difficult and risky for those facing many intersections of  oppression, and African-American men have historically faced even greater threats and rejections. Professional sports are hardly embracing, and the NFL is at the bottom of the pack. Despite all this, Sam decided that honesty and integrity made it worth the risk. In his coming out interview with the New York Times, he said:

I just want to go to the team who drafts me, because that team knows about me, knows that I’m gay, and also knows that I work hard. That’s the team I want to go to.

That’s as it should be. Hard work and talent should be enough for any team. Nonetheless, a number of NFL executives and officials commented anonymously in Sports Illustrated that Sam had doomed his chances. Playing the gay panic card, they said things like

There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that. There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality.

How disgusting and how bizarre! Does it then naturally follow that all heterosexual men are unable to control themselves around all women that come near them? How ironic that Michael Sam made a strong public statement and those who want to tear him down will only speak off the record.

Fortunately, the official NFL stance is much more positive:

We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.

Let’s hope that this proves to be true, and that Michael Sam gets the chance he deserves to shatter an ugly, long-standing barrier.

How absolutely wonderful that First Lady Michelle Obama texted Sam:

You’re an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field. -mo

Just when I did not think I could love her anymore than I already did. Brava, First Lady!

As a nice footnote to this story, Hero of the Week Honorable Mention goes to an unexpected representative of the dominant discourse. Dale Hansen, a white sportscaster on WFAA TV in Dallas, TX, celebrated Michael Sam and thrashed his critics during his segment Monday evening, ripping apart their hypocrisy:

You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome … You lie to police trying to cover up a murder? We’re comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!

Of course, I love that he quotes Audre Lorde! He rails against conservatives who want small government but also want the government to control who we can love and ends with a lovely celebration of the ways that our differences make us stronger. Thank you, Mr. Hansen!

LGBT History Month 2013: Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers

5 Jun

CollinsRogersWhat a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.

Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.

Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.

Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.

The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!

The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.

Hero of the Week: January 25, Brendon Ayanbadejo

25 Jan
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

When a celebrity stands up for an issue, its nice to see them stick with it and not just enjoy a flash of press. Brendon Ayanbadejo, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, clearly has the courage of his convictions. A long-time proponent of marriage equality and LGBT civil rights, he weathered a storm last year when a local politician demanded that his team’s owners put him in check.

Ayanbadejo stood firm on the side of equality, and with the help of Minneapolis punter Chris Kluwe brought even more attention to the issue. His strong voice contributed to the success of marriage equality in Maryland at the ballot box.

Hometown success is not enough for Ayanbadejo, however. He continues to raise his voice for equality and stands in solidarity with the LGBT community; now he suddenly has a much larger platform. The Ravens are headed to the Super Bowl, and he wants to use that exposure to make the case for marriage equality nationally. Wanting to make the most of this opportunity, Ayanbadejo reached out to two other equality supporters — hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and activist Brian Ellner.

Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?

What a great goal! While millions are turning their attention to this sporting event, he can convey a message of social justice. As a straight, biracial athlete, his power and voice are enormous, and he won’t squander them. Thank you, Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Number 2 Hero of the Year 2012: Chris Kluwe

30 Dec
Number 2 Hero of 2012

Number 2 Hero of 2012

The success of any social movement requires effort not just from the oppressed but from their allies. This year the LGBT community got a big boost from an unexpected source. NFL star Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings came out blazing for marriage equality. Once he got people’s attention, he refused to be silent. I must confess a great amount of joy at the amazing number of nominations that poured in for Kluwe as Hero of the Year–thank you TSM Readers.

His advocacy started when another player, Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo, expanded his ongoing support (after work with NoH8 and other groups). Ayanbadejo joined the fight for marriage equality in Maryland and was attacked by a local politician. Recognizing the opportunity for advocacy, Kluwe wrote a public letter to the offending bigot, skewering him, supporting Ayanbadejo, and making a clear, commonsense case for marriage equality.

This straight, white, rich guy used his privilege to speak truth to power, modelling great behavior. On top of that, he did so with wit (introducing the phrase “lustful cockmonster” into the vernacular) and insistence. Since the initial foray, Kluwe has been a strong voice for LGBT equality — he even debated marriage rights with an empty chair immediately after the GOP convention. Kluwe and Ayanbadejo deserve credit for helping the successful equality campaigns in their states and for showing that professional athletes can be supporters of the LGBT community without suffering.

Honorable mention goes to Ayanbadejo for his stellar advocacy work. It also goes to the steadily increasing number of LGBT athletes who are coming out and serving as role models in traditionally homophobic careers. Silence =Death and visibility = power.  A huge thank you to all of the LGBT allies out there.  With your help, we can stamp out homophobia!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Number 1 Hero of 2012.

Bigot of the Week Award: October 5, Matt Birk

5 Oct

Bigot of the Week

After all the voices for equality emerging from professional football lately, it was perhaps inevitable that a player would feel obligated to buck the trend. Jumping in with both feet (in his mouth), Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk decided to blast his homophobic bigotry far and wide ( I suppose he is a wide end receiver hehhehe). The man who was named NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in February wrote an OpEd for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (the home of his previous team, the Vikings) aggressively opposing marriage equality. On what basis? His desire to impose his religion on everyone (he’s Roman Catholic,  you know the Pope in his beautiful frock covering up all the sex scandals)  and the sad lie that marriage exists only for the children.

Same-sex unions may not affect my marriage specifically, but it will affect my children — the next generation. Ideas have consequences, and laws shape culture. Marriage redefinition will affect the broader well-being of children and the welfare of society. As a Christian and a citizen, I am compelled to care about both.

Yes, you should care about both, Matt, and the fact that this “redefinition” creates equality and sends that next generation the message that everyone has value. I guess that doesn’t matter to you. Not content with his essay, Birk also recorded this toxic PSA for the Minnesota Catholic Conference reiterating his stand. I guess all of you single parents are sinners in the eyes of Matt Birk.

Thank you to my friend, Jennifer Carey for inspiring this week’s Dishonorable Mention, which goes to the Arizona legislature. Not content with their state’s abhorrent racist laws on immigration, they’ve decided to join the war on women as well. HB2625, which passed the house in March, is now working its way through the Senate. This odious bill allows employers to opt out of the mandated provision of birth control. Employees must submit to intrusive questions,verifying the purpose of the medication to be solely for medical reasons and not to prevent pregnancy. The bill would grant employers the ability to deny female employees the right to be covered based on religious beliefs. Given the makeup of the Senate and the nasty beast sitting in the Governor’s office, it is very likely that the bill will become law before long.

Hero of the Week Award: September 14, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

14 Sep

Hero of the Week

This week’s tragic events in Benghazi, Libya once again demonstrated the kind of powerful leadership we have in the Obama administration. With exceedingly difficult and painful news to deliver, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a strong, passionate statement to the press after it was learned that Ambassador Chris Stevens and three aides were killed. She struck the perfect balance of respect for the dead, determination for justice, and a call for clear heads to prevail in the face of confusing and tragic events. She and the President avoided the opportunity for political grandstanding in a tough election year, focusing instead on providing the kind of leadership and clear foreign policy our country needs.

This is an attack that should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world. We condemn in the strongest terms this senseless act of violence, and we send our prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues of those we’ve lost. […] Today, many Americans are asking – indeed, I asked myself – how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya.

It was the kind of statement that serves as a model and should be used to teach public speaking and diplomacy. How good was it? Sen. John McCain (R – Angry Lawn), hardly a fan of anyone named Clinton or Obama, had this to say:

Just watched an excellent and moving statement by Sec. Clinton — just the right message and tone.

Here is wishing Secretary of State Clinton a very speedy recovery from her blood clots and our best wishes for a Happy New Year!

 

What has the world come to when I agree with Sen. McCain. You can watch the whole statement on YouTube.

Honorable mention this week goes to Australian football player Jake Ball who became one of the rare public sports figures to come out as gay. Despite his reservations and fear of being removed from the team, he decided that someone needed to be the first. To his pleasant surprise, his team has been very supportive and the macho homophobic language in the locker room has reduced to zero.

NFL Stars Tackle Homophobia

8 Sep

Ayanbadejo and Kluwe

What a delightful surprise! Not one but two NFL players have recently shown strong support for LGBT equality. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been a vocal supporter for some time, participating in HRC campaigns like NoH8. Because marriage equality is on the ballot in Maryland this year, he has supported Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Enter Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns.

In a shocking display of homophobia and free speech trampling, Burns sent a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti demanding that Ayanbadejo “concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.” Ignoring the fact that civil rights matter for everyone, Burns illogically says that being a celebrity removes the right to have opinions (that disagree with his). That Burns is African American and ignores the intersections of oppression is even harder to believe.

The response to Burns has been wonderful, however. Ayanbadejo said he would like to “thank him more than anything for bringing national attention to the issue” and questioned Burns’ merit as an elected official. Then enter Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Minnesota is facing a one-man-one-woman hate amendment this November and Kluwe has recorded three ads opposing the equality ban. He wrote an impassioned letter to Burns defending his NFL colleague and marriage equality. It’s a wonderful letter in full; here’s a good sample.

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

Well said, Mr. Kluwe, and thank you! Given the homophobia in most professional sports and the small number of athletes who are willing to be out and proud, players like Kluwe and Ayanbadejo are important heroes. Let’s hope their voices make life easier for the next generation of athletes and help establish better equality for all.

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