‘Gays in Sports’ takes center stage in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

‘Gays in Sports’ takes center stage in Aspen

Nate Peterson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Sports Illustrated asked athletes in the four major professional leagues in March 2006 whether they would welcome an openly gay teammate.

The results of the anonymous surveys concluded that a majority of players wouldn’t take issue with a homosexual teammate in the locker room. The National Hockey League had the highest positive response, at 79.9 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, the NFL had the smallest majority, at 56.9 percent.

Two years later, there’s an obvious follow-up question: If there’s seemingly a majority of support for homosexual athletes, why is it that an active male athlete has yet to announce that he’s gay?

That question will be at the forefront of a panel discussion at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Wheeler Opera House titled “Gays in Sports: The Invisible Athlete.” Former NBA player John Amaechi, who made headlines last year when he announced, in retirement, that he is gay, is one of the scheduled panelists, as is ESPN.com page 2 columnist LZ Granderson. (The discussion is free and open to the public.)

Granderson ” openly gay himself ” wrote The Aspen Times via e-mail that the reason gays in sports feel compelled to stay in the closet is simple. His explanation, however, touches on a number of complex contributing factors.

“Everyone keeps focusing on the reasons why closeted athletes can’t come out, and they rarely hear why they can,” wrote Granderson, who pens columns twice a week on a diverse array of topics and athletes. “They hear they will be abandoned by teammates, ridiculed by fans, and systematically escorted out of a league they spent most of their lives trying to get in. They hear [former NBA All-Star] Tim Hardaway’s comments more than the supportive comments of [current All-Stars] Tracy McGrady or [Shaquille] O’Neal. They see ‘God hates fags’ more than ‘God is love.’ They don’t believe they have the strength to stand up and be different, and because of the nature of their profession, they are not able to spend a lot of time in an environment that is affirming and can help them build that strength.”

Seeing. Hearing. Believing. Granderson says that, when it comes to discussions about homosexuality in America, it’s often the case that the majority opinion is often tuned out by a visible, vocal minority.

When it comes to gays in sports, perceptions ” often reinforced by a media horde looking for a sensational story or sound byte ” can distort the truth.

It’s an opinion shared by Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, an internet outpost for gay athletes and sports fanatics.

Zeigler, who will moderate Friday’s discussion, said the mainstream media, more than any other group, is responsible for giving credence to the reservations that gay athletes harbor when it comes to coming out to their teammates, coaches and fans.

“The media continues to hold onto the idea that gay men can’t be out in sports,” he said.

For example, Zeigler pointed out how talking heads addressed Hardaway’s inflammatory remarks last year ” after Amaechi announced he was gay. A number of prominent journalists opined that Hardaway just happened to get in trouble for getting caught on the microphone airing an opinion shared by a number of pro athletes.

“If you watched [ESPN’s] Pardon the Interruption, they said how wonderful it was that Amaechi came out, and how terrible Hardaway’s comments were,” Zeigler said. “Then Michael Wilbon said, ‘But you know that everybody in the locker room is thinking the same thing [as Hardaway]’ How does he know that? Does he have any sort of evidence?”

A number of former and current NBA stars, including O’Neal, Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade, came out and said they wouldn’t have a problem with a gay teammate in the wake of the controversy. Still, Zeigler said, the media at large downplayed those comments.

“The people the media keeps giving a voice to are the Jeremy Shockeys of the world,” Zeigler said, referencing the Giants tight end who has openly discriminated against gays in conversations with the media. “They blow up the people who say bad things and cover up the people who say good things. There are 10 to 20 times as many people who are saying good things than those who are saying bad things, but the average sports writer simply reflects his own uninformed opinion.”

Zeigler is unapologetic when it comes to his view of sports scribes in general.

“Most of them aren’t reporters and journalists,” he said. “They’re sports fans with a voice. They want to be buddies with the iconic athletes of their lives.”

Granderson himself has written about his personal trials as a sports writer in a profession where there are very few openly gay peers.

Both Granderson and Zeigler agree, however, that the media itself isn’t solely responsible for sustaining a culture that shuns gay athletes.

“I think it’s unfair to constantly single out athletes and the locker room, and not talk about the coaches and GMs who allow such an environment to exist, or the team owners and college presidents who allow such an environment to exist, or the media personalities who play into it,” Granderson wrote. “It’s so easy to always dump on the 22-year-old who doesn’t say the PC thing in the locker room when a mic’s shoved in his face, everyone’s looking at him and he’s worried about fitting in. It’s tougher to call out the 55-year-old who only addresses the comments when it becomes a PR nightmare, if at all, because that guy has true power.”

Granderson wrote that even gays and gay allies themselves contribute to the problem.

“Gays have to stop being so sensitive about every comment that’s made,” he wrote. “I’m not saying go along to get along, but look at things contextually. For example, [former Bulls and current Lakers coach] Phil Jackson had a cross-dressing power forward on his team for three years in Dennis Rodman, so I doubt he’s a homophobe for making a bad “Brokeback Mountain” joke. He’s probably one of the few NBA coaches who actually saw the movie and can tell you what’s it about.”

npeterson@aspentimes.com


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