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02 January 2012

Praise: Howard Bryant of ESPN on Welcoming Gay Athletes

In a story to appear in the 9 January 2012 edition of ESPN the Magazine, Howard Bryant calls on major league teams to welcome openly gay athletes.
AS 2011 GIVES WAY TO 2012, "don't ask, don't tell" has disappeared from the military, gay adoption is commonplace, Houston and Portland have gay mayors, and same-sex marriage is legal in half a dozen states and counting. Meanwhile, numerous athletes and coaches have told me they couldn't care less if a teammate were to come out, suggesting now is the time for openly gay players in mainstream team sports.
Mr. Bryant draws a parallel with civil rights for racial minorities and then looks at what it might mean for sexual minorities.
The natural parallel to any change in America is the civil rights movement. Then, as now, it was inconceivable that society would be ready for such change, but the truth is that society is never ready. The real question is whether the major sports leagues are prepared to make us ready.
What does ready mean? It means having a "spouses section" instead of a "wives section" at the ballpark. It means signaling that gay players would be welcome to invite their significant others on the team charter during family road trips and postseason cruises. It means the leagues must ruthlessly enforce a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination and harassment, whether from fans, coaches or executives unfairly trading gay players. It means each commissioner committing his authority to crush dissent, just as Chandler did to the players who threatened to boycott Robinson.
It means educating players to separate sex from homosexuality so that they trust that on fourth and goal, a gay middle linebacker is thinking about a game-saving goal-line stand and nothing else -- that he wants to win a championship with as much desire and focus as, say, Ray Lewis.
It also requires a terrific leap of faith from the pioneering gay player, who must believe that his league, the owners, fans and American corporations, with whom millions of dollars in potential endorsements lie, will support him enough to make his honesty worth the risk.
The leap of faith, according to Mr. Bryant, needs to reach up to the commissioners of the major leagues.  He continues by dismissing the obvious paranoia that will accompany open equality and reaches an optimistic and perhaps realistic conclusion.
We hear that gay players' sexuality would be a distraction in the locker room, just as black players supposedly weren't intelligent, disciplined and committed enough to satisfy whites. The objection that fans would savage an openly gay player is no different from the belief that whites did not want to sit in the same section as blacks (or live next door to them). For every concern that fundamentalists would not accept a gay player, so too was it believed that Southerners would never play alongside black players.
Such pessimistic notions once provided the ironclad foundation of segregation, and all were eventually discredited. But when it came to baseball, it took leaders leading -- Chandler and Rickey -- to prove to Robinson and America that the willpower to change existed. Now the moment belongs to Stern, Bettman, Goodell and Selig. If the commissioners make their stand, just as kids today find segregation inconceivable, future generations will wonder what the fuss about gay players was about.
The last line is at the heart of every struggle for civil rights and equality.  Once we get beyond institutionalized bigotry, it will take a generation or two before young people are confused by the discrimination of their recent ancestors.  Thank you, Mr. Bryant, for saying it so well.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

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