Tag Archives: Sports

Women’s History Month 2014: Jackie Joyner-Kersee

3 Mar

jackie_joyner_kersee_21March is National Women’s History Month.  To start the celebration of women, I would like to honor and pay tribute to Jackie Joyner-Kersee . Today is also Joyner-Kersee’s 52nd birthday.  Joyner-Kersee has won more medals than any other female athlete in Olympic track and field, with three gold medals, a silver, and two bronze.  Joyner-Kersee retired at age 38 in 2001.  Joyner-Kersee and Babe Didrikson are celebrated as the greatest female athletes of the 20th Century.

One of the reasons why I wanted to celebrate Jackie Joyner-Kersee was her dedication to social justice and paying it forward. After she retired, she established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation — a foundation that provides sports lessons to youth and families to improve quality of life with It is based in her hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois.  Joyner-Kersee also helped to establish Athletes for Hope, an organization that encourages other athletes to work toward making a positive difference in the world.

Thank you, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Happy Birthday!

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.

Bigot of the Week Award: March 22, CNN and Poppy Harlow

22 Mar
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Thank you to my friend Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this week’s Bigot story.  What a sad tale to tell — how tragic that we see patriarchy put above all else, as Poppy (a woman) bemoans the verdict of the rapists in Steubenville, OH and gives no mention of the rape victim and how the rest of her life has been impacted.

Yes, I have some empathy for the two men who raped the young girl, but I was mortified to see CNN and Poppy Harlow talking ad nauseam about “these poor young men,” and how impressive they were.  She goes on to sing their praises because they offered an apology.  Is it just me, or is this whole thing totally screwed up?  Sadly, I found CNN and Poppy to be quite loathsome.  What about the young woman who was raped? What about her life? Let us not forget that these young men — whom you fawn over — drugged the young woman, repeatedly raped her, and then dumped her body in a yard where they then proceeded to urinate on her. How dare you sing the praises of these two rapists while not giving any acknowledgement of the physical and mental anguish the victim will suffer for the rest of her life. Have you no shame?

Just like Penn State, we see hints of authority figures complicit in a cover-up to protect athletic programs while ignoring the victims. Just like too many examples, we see members of the community heaping scorn on the victim for coming forward. Is it any wonder that so many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported?

If you can stomach it, here is the video of Poppy Harlow on CNN. How sad that we see women in our culture so quick to care take of the male rapists while ignoring the victim — we are truly in the world of Todd Akin.

Hero of the Week Award: March 8, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

8 Mar
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week the NCAA provided much-needed leadership in the treatment of LGBT people in college athletic programs. Recognizing the rapid change in LGBT acceptance in all aspects of college life, the NCAA sought to provide a single, comprehensive resource for campuses. The elegantly titled Champions of Respect: Inclusion of LGBTQ Student-Athletes and Staff in NCAA Programs is a welcome guide. It provides Best Practices, Policicies, and Legal Resources along with sample discussions, resources for allies, and more detailed recommendations for all aspects of the recruitment-to-graduation process.

The guide’s introduction sets the stage clearly:

Athletics departments have a responsibility to ensure that all student-athletes have an opportunity to participate in a safe, inclusive and respectful climate where they are valued for their contributions as team members and for their individual commitment and character, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Given the increasing focus on LGBT issues in professional and collegiate athletics, this single resource is very welcome indeed. Thank you, NCAA, for taking this important step. (The guide is available free of charge on the NCAA website.)

It’s been a good week for social justice, giving us two solid honorable mentions. The first goes to some performers who backed out of the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. Citing the Boy Scouts of America’s rabidly homophobic membership policy, pop-rockers Train derailed their participation on Monday. The very next day, singer Carly Rae Jepsen told the Scouts “Call me? No way.”

As an artist who believes in equality for all people, I will not be participating in the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree this summer.

Big thanks to GLAAD and Eagle Scout Derek Nance for bringing the Scouts’ practices to the attention of these performers.

Finally, some good news on a not-so-super situation at DC Comics. For a new digital-to-print series featuring Superman, the publisher contracted with crazed homophobe Orson Scott Card to write the first issue. Many comic shops have refused to order the issue and the push-back against DC has been strong, so far to no avail. Enter artist Chris Sprouse. Slated to pencil the Card story, Sprouse announced this week that he was not willing to be associated with the writer. The timing of his decision has forced DC to back-burner the story and rush out later issues to fill the gap. Hopefully Sprouse’s ethical stand will help the publisher to rethink their whole arrangement with Card.

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.

Hero of the Week Award: September 21, the Toronto Blue Jays

21 Sep

Hero of the Week

Perhaps the homophobic tide is slowly turning in professional athletics. Just weeks after two NFL players made headlines with their outspoken support of marriage equality, a major league baseball team handled the homophobic actions of a player in a clear and decisive way.

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar is known for writing slogans in white paint on his eyeblack. According to teammates and news items, most of the writing is “inspirational or motivational.” Last Saturday, however, the writing was neither of these things. The eyeblack (which comes in adhesive strips making it easy to augment with words or images before applying) he wore on the field said “Tu eres maricon,” Spanish for “you are a faggot.”

The outcry was swift. Escobar held a press conference with a lame “everybody says it in the locker room” defense; he then moved on to a “it doesn’t really mean anything,” sounding like a high school kid caught slinging the word “gay” indiscriminately. He also played the “lots of my friends are gay” card although he could only name his decorator and hair stylist. fortunately, Blue Jays management didn’t buy his nonpology. After consulting with the Baseball Commissioner, they handed  Escobar a pretty stiff penalty.

The player was suspended for three games and his salary for those games (equalling an impressive $83,000 and change) will go to two charities. The bulk will go to the relatively new You Can Play project, whose mission is:

You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. […] 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.

What a perfect choice! The balance of the penalty will go to GLAAD, another fitting selection. Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos described the decision clearly.

Taking away from all of this, there is a problem not only in sports but a problem in society, and how do we move forward to help with that problem? If at the end of the day the Blue Jays become a vehicle and Yunel becomes a vehicle to improve things and make them better, as unfortunate as this is, hopefully some good will come from it.

The management team also acknowledged their responsibility, noting that eyeblack writing is so common that it is often overlooked. They hope that this action will make players think twice and are instructing coaches to pay closer attention in the future. Nicely done, Blue Jays, and thank you.

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.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 27, Renée Richards

27 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in transgender rights and LGBT athletics. Renée Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York in 1934. She grew up, in her own words “a nice Jewish boy.” Raskind excelled at tennis from early on, and was ranked among the top-10 Eastern and national juniors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, serving as captain of the high school team and again for the team at Yale. After Yale, Raskind went to medical school at the University of Rochester. After a short stint in the Navy, the doctor established a career as an eye surgeon while still pursuing tennis on the side.

Raskind realized that her gender identity did not match the male gender assigned to her at birth and began to explore her options in the mid-60s. She traveled Europe dressed as a woman and consulted a physician about reassignment surgery. She did not transition at that time, however, and returned to the U.S. where she married and had a son. She then decided to transition and did so in 1975.

Richards wanted to continue to play tennis but was met with resistance. The U.S. Tennis Association barred her from the U.S. Open in 1976, requiring her to take a chromosome test. Unwilling to accept this discrimination, she sued the USTA. In 1977, the New York Supreme Court handed her a win. She played women’s tennis professionally until 1981. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at the U.S. Open in 1977 with Betty Ann Stuart — the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve — and winning the 35-and-over women’s singles. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her courage and drive have been the subject of two films. Second Serve, a made-for-television film from 1986 starred Vanessa Redgrave who received two award nominations for the role. The film was based on her autobiography. ESPN made the documentary Renée in 2011. No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, was her second book, published in 2007.

Renée Richards is a true pioneer. There are very few out athletes, and fewer still who maintain professional success while out. Like her contemporary, baseball’s Glenn Burke, Richards proved that despite the discrimination it is possible to succeed. She remains perhaps the most successful active, professional, out athlete.

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