When I was younger, in grades 6 to 10, almost daily I would be in the school yard and hear someone say to another, “blow me”, “suck me off”, “suck my cock”, “eat me”. Very few times did that person actually mean the other person was gay, it was just something to degrade the other person. It was part of the swearing lexicon that so many of us spoke daily. No one stopped to think; it just rolled off our tongues.
The names/insults we throw back and forth aT each other go on everywhere, by people of all genders, race or age. Sometimes this kind of language is blooped out on TV, sometimes it isn’t. It is heard all its glory on the bigscreen. To say you didn’t hear at least one insulting comment a day would be really hard to believe. Many of us are guilty of doing it.
I’ve been to baseball, football, and hockey games, and over and over in the stands I’ve heard homophobic comments directed at any player who screwed up on the field of play. Heaven forbid that you cheer for the wrong team because, you know, the other team, "they are all a bunch of fags”.
Pick a sport, any sport and you'll hear of a player spewing homophobic slurs or someone being on the receiving end of the slurs, be it the fans, fellow players, coaches or the referees. It’s a mad display of bravado between all three groups. Players fighting with fans in the seats, players arguing with the managers, coaches and refs, someone gets too hot under the collar and then out comes some sort of racist or homophobic slur.
Thousands of similar slurs from fans have already been shouted out through most of any game, but the one that draws attention is the one made by a player, coach, or referee. The player is singled out and paraded on TV and in the media to be made an example of. He’s made to apologise, he’s fined an amount that is basically a half hour's pay for him. And we the people want things to change, we want to end homophobia in sports.
Let's take what is happening in the National Hockey League right now. They have a campaign called "If You Can Play, You Can Play". It was started by Brian Burke, the current General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his eldest son Patrick. Burke's younger son Brandon came out gay to his hockey team. Brandon was the first athlete to fight for the rights of gay athletes in professional hockey and just as his life in sports started he was tragically killed in a car crash in 2010. Like his team, his coaches and management who supported him, so did his father and brother. They are dedicated to carry on his legacy to affirm LGBTQ athletes around the world are afforded equal opportunity, judged only by their talent, character and work ethic.
In an interview with Xtra Magazine, Brian Burke referred to slurs that may sound homophobic but were not said to be homophobic, that they were more habitual and stupid. He's aware it doesn't make it less offensive or painful to the gay community. He went on to say that when a player throws out that three syllable word it doesn't mean he's accusing the other player of being gay, it's just what they say when they get hit in the head. Its language that needs to change but it's going to take time. Burke says he's seen changes at the NCAA level with younger players and he's seeing a difference with his own team.
So we are finally having some dialogue on this subject and it was all started by....a player. What I see in Brian Burke's comments echoes what I have seen myself sitting in the stands with other fans. I think the message needs to be directed more to the fans.
Before I finish off on this I would like to go back to the 1970s and tell you about an up and coming baseball star named Glenn Burke. I collected baseball and hockey sportscards with my two sons a few years back but never heard about this player. I always thought there had to be gay baseball players but it had to be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality. This story answered that question for me.
Glenn was a highschool and college star basketball player who also played baseball. He drew the attention of the Los Angeles Dodger's baseball scouts who described him as the next Willie Mays. After the normal stint in the minors Glenn was brought up to the Big League where he got to play in the first game for the Dodger's 1977 World Series opener. This was also the year he was credited for creating the "high five", when teammate Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run.
Glenn didn't hide his sexuality from his teammates or the Dodgers' management. His teammates didn't really care but it's safe to say that management wasn't so cool with the news. At one point they offered him bonuses if he would marry a woman. Instead Glenn befriended and dated manager Tommy Lasorda's gay son. This apparently angered manager Lasorda and Glenn was traded to the Oakland A's for a less talented player which suggested homophobia was behind the trade.
When Glenn arrived in Oakland, manager Billy Martin introduced him as "faggot" to his new teammates. Glenn didn't see much playing time with the A's; he suffered a knee injury and was later sent to the minors in Utah. He wasn't re-signed when his contract ran out in 1979.
In 2010 a movie documentary based on a book of the same name called Out: The Glenn Burke Story was made and released in August of 2012. The documentary follows his career in baseball, the car accident that resulted in his leg and foot being crushed, to his battle with drugs and life on the streets and his death from AIDS. When his AIDS diagnosis became public knowledge 1995 the A's organization and former teammates came out to support him. Glenn didn't hold any grudges and said he only had one regret, that he didn't try a second career in basketball.
"They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it." – Glenn Burke.
The only other baseball player to come out, and only after he retired, is Detroit Tiger's player Billy Bean, not to be confused with the A's current manager (Billy Beane). There were rumors that Roberto Alomar was gay and living with AIDS; his female partner claimed he was HIV positive and put her at risk, though she tested negative.
I would like to acknowledge that some baseball franchises have contributed videos involving their players for the "It Gets Better" campaign and thats another step forward but it hasn’t been done by all teams in the league yet.
Any in sports management ireading this? (Hint hint). There is a whole new market here in the gay community to watch cute gay atheletes play their favourite sport.
The 2012 Olympics in London England saw participation by 20 or so LGBTQ athletes, I never heard of anything ruining the games because they were there. Some went home with medals and some competed to the best of their ability. We have gays coming out all over the world, sports casters, news anchors, TV stars and singer/musicians. There are rugby players, and a soccer player, there have always been gay tennis players and figure skaters. I think the time is right, the players say it's time.
It's also time for the fans to stand up and stop the homophobia.