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Times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to sexuality in the United States.  With every new generation comes increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as evidenced by nine states (and Washington DC) legalizing gay marriage. 

Roy Hibbert became the latest high profile athlete to learn a hard lesson from this culture shift after the Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.  During the the televised post game press conference Hibbert used the homophobic slur “no homo.”

Hibbert also dropped a “motherf****r” in that press conference, which was aired (and bleeped) on TNT.  The “MF” hardly raised an eyebrow (although the NBA will surely fine Hibbert for using the more traditional curse word…UPDATE: The NBA fined Hibbert $75,000 for his post-game remarks), but the gay slur had the social media world buzzing with comments and criticism of Hibbert’s word choice. 

Shortly after the press conference, the Pacers big man tweeted Jason Collins, requesting a conversation with the recently-out NBA player.  The tweet has since been deleted and Sunday, Hibbert released a statement through the clean-up crew… errr…Pacers, apologizing for his comment.

While speaking with Collins is a fine idea, Hibbert should strongly consider giving Kobe Bryant a call. 

Remember when Bryant landed in hot water after yelling a gay slur (the other “F” word) at a referee back in 2011?  Well, Bryant’s bank account remembers as he was fined $100,000 by the league.  Bryant issued the obligatory apology and professed that his words didn’t reflect his personal views (just as Hibbert has done), but the L.A. Lakers superstar put his money where his mouth is in continuing to advocate for acceptance by making public service announcements, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan’s anti-gay language on twitter.

Heck, maybe Hibbert, Bryant and Tim Hardaway should hold an NBA “acceptance summit.”  

In Hibbert’s statement, he apologized for using the “slang” term.  Yes, certain words and phrases are ingrained in our heads from a young age (or even during adulthood) and removing them from our vocabulary can take time and practice.  I don’t know about you guys, but after making a conscious decision at the age of 14 (and with my Mom’s insistence), I kicked “gay” and “retarded” out of my lexicon for good.  Were there occasional slip-ups early on?  Absolutely, but unlearning hurtful words ain’t that tough a task. 

Not long ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline written by an athlete from one of the many teams I covered for work.  In his tweet, said athlete used the word “gay” in the context of “bad” or “stupid.”  I immediately texted him a mini-lecture, detailing why he should remove the tweet (for his own sake) and that he should strongly consider attempting to remove the word, in such context, from his vocabulary both publicly and privately.

He quickly texted me back saying “you know I didn’t mean it like that,” so I text-lectured a bit further.  Within five minutes of posting, the tweet had disappeared. A few hours later, the athlete told me he had received instant blowback from several of his twitter followers, prompting him to delete the tweet.  He told me that he agreed with my stance and that he would make an effort to stop using “gay” in a negative connotation.  I haven’t seen or heard him use the word since. 

This player is a guy with a wonderful personality and a big heart.  He was quite young at the time and it was apparent that all he needed was someone to point out something that he hadn’t considered previously.  I cut him some slack and tried to help him out a bit because I didn’t think he was anti-gay, and I believed he fell into the “even good people make mistakes” category. 

The aforementioned athlete, Bryant, and Hibbert all claimed that their hurtful words did not align with their personal beliefs and that their intent didn’t come from a discriminatory place. 

Unfortunately, that is of little consequence to the closeted gay teenager who reads a tweet from his favorite pro-athlete and feels his heart sink.  As much as some public figures stray from the “role model” position, it doesn’t make their words any less far-reaching or diminish the power of their actions.

Intentions are practically meaningless in situations like these because emotional and physical responses are attached to certain words (like the “N” word) that historically, have been used in the vein of hate, violence and persecution.

Kobe Bryant turned a huge negative into an even greater positive with the steps he has taken since his on-court outburst in 2011.  I’m guessing the driving force behind such a drastic turnaround is sincerity.  Do I know for a fact that Bryant isn’t anti-gay?  No I don’t, but I’d be shocked if he was faking it.  If Hibbert truly has no issue with homosexuality, he should follow in Bryant’s footsteps. 

At what point will influential public figures like Hibbert (and plenty of others) step out of their personal bubbles and learn from the mistakes made by their peers and predecessors?   At what point do we stop making excuses for ourselves and learn to do the right thing without having to first, do something wrong?

The movement for LGBT equality has been on the forefront of American politics and society over the last several years with professional athletics finally joining the party as sports stars spanning the globe have trickled out of the closet.  

John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner have all publicly disclosed their sexuality in recent years, proving that yes, some of the best athletes on earth are indeed gay.  

Last week NBA player Jason Collins disclosed he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American team sports to come out.

Supporting Collins and the right for players to be open and honest about their sexuality were fellow athletes Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Steve Nash, CC Sabathia and Jerry Stackhouse. 

All of these men have one thing in common.  They are all over 30 years old.  Why is this important?

Traditionally, the Gay Rights movement leadership may be comprised of an over 30 crowd, but surveys indicate that the greatest support for equal marriage rights lies among younger Americans.   With every new generation entering adulthood, the country becomes more accepting of gay rights.

I, for one, would think that today’s college players and younger professional athletes would be the folks leading the way for openly gay players in sports.  It seems that I’m only half right, especially in men’s sports.  

Academia frequently serves as a catalyst for social change and we’re seeing an increased number of college athletic programs publicly encourage players to come out.  However there’s a significant drop off in that sentiment among the pro ranks. 

It’s no coincidence that many veteran players, such as those previously mentioned, are freely expressing opinions on a controversial issue.  Many of these guys are at the end of their professional careers or are so dominant in their sport that they won’t face any career-threatening or financial consequences.  

But what about young players who aren’t yet established in their sport?  Just a few months ago, an NFL prospect was asked about his sexuality at the Combine.  What kind of message does that send to young players? 

There is one player who has managed to break the mold.  He’s not a veteran but he has faced years of taunting as a result of sticking up for his beliefs. 

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Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is just the kind of young, talented, high-profile athlete needed to encourage other heterosexual athletes of his generation to help open the doors even wider for lesbian and gay teammates.  

Raised by two moms,  Waudda and Manasin, the 23-year-old Faried has been active in supporting the LGBT community for several years.  An impressive rookie season earned Faried respect and a solid reputation heading into this season, his second in the NBA.  

Veteran, heterosexual players (and obviously, the gay athletes who have come out over the years, such as Martina Navratilova) have paved the way for Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and now, Jason Collins.  But those guys are on the way out, leaving a huge void in the movement.  Kenneth Faried is the man to fill that void for his generation.  Hopefully by the time his career ends, Faried won’t need a successor because the movement itself will no longer be necessary.  

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Dear Chris,

Hey man, how’s it going? I would like to sugar coat the meaty contents of this letter by first saying congratulations on making it to the Super Bowl, as you and your 49ers teammates have made the city of San Francisco beam with football pride for the first time in many years.  That is wonderful.

More importantly, I have a personal favor I’d like to ask of you.  Please don’t apologize for your homophobic comments, attempt to rephrase or claim your words were taken out of context. 

I’m not sure even the best and brightest of the PR world could find a way to spin this (courtesy of the Mercury News):

“I don’t do the gay guys man,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.

“Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can’t be … in the locker room man. Nah.”

Culliver suggested that homosexual athletes keep their sexuality private until 10 years after they retire.

Oy Vey. 

Apparently, Artie Lange is the new Oprah, getting guys like you to open up about such controversial subjects.  Impressive!

Here’s the thing Chris.  Personally, I respect your right to freely discuss your opinions, any time, any place. I’m sure the majority of San Franciscans agree, given the Bay Area’s storied history of the peace movement, freedom of speech and gay rights activism. 

This is why I implore you not to attempt to color these comments as something other than what they are; the dark truth that homophobia and strong anti-gay views remain deeply rooted in the world of professional sports.

Sure, there are other guys sprinkled throughout pro sports, for instance, your fellow NFL pals Brendon Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita, who are openly supportive of civil rights in this country, including LGBT rights.  But clearly the movement is not yet powerful enough to have impacted you, despite your own team’s efforts to join the cause

While it was a poor business move to publicly reveal your feelings about gays as a member of a San Francisco-based organization, there is no going back so you may as well resign to moving forward.

Should you apologize for hurting people’s feelings or offending them?  That seems fair.  You can stick by something you say while feeling bad that others are hurt by it.  In a weird and twisted way, I actually respect Lance Armstrong for a non-apology he gave Oprah in their sit-down interview.

Instead of taking the apology bait when Oprah asked him if he felt remorse, Armstrong’s response was, “everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught.” Finally, he was honest about something.

Chris, you are strong enough to take the Lance route on this one. 
Don’t be like your Super Bowl opponent Terrell Suggs who, after verbally decimating the "arrogant prick" Patriots, received a talking-to from teammate Ray Lewis, and consequently changed his tune to, “people don’t like them because they win,” in hopes of avoiding backlash.  That’s weak sauce.  Super weak. 

Stick to your beliefs.  Only if you mean it, say you’re sorry for offending anyone and then keep your mouth shut regarding this issue for the rest of the week.

And don’t worry about being excluded or treated as a leper back home in San Francisco after the Super Bowl.  Most of the folks in the Bay are much more accepting than you, so you need not worry.  It’s all good.  In fact, I bet you’ll be even more popular upon your return, as the locals will surely stop you on the street for a quick chat from time to time, in hopes that maybe, just maybe their open-mindedness might rub off on you. 

Sincerely,
Jackie

UPDATE:  Well, looks like Chris didn’t read my letter.  Bummer.

49ers statement, on behalf of Chris Culliver:

"The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”

 

Of the four commercial North American sports, modern-day baseball has the deepest roots and oldest traditions.  People on the inside will tell you that baseball is still a good ol’ boys club and adverse to change in many ways, but today, baseball seems to have finally caught up with the times.

A joint news release from Major League Baseball and the Players Union confirmed a New York Daily News report that “sexual orientation” will be added to the discrimination clause of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.  The league announced the new five-year agreement on Tuesday (which also includes more wildcard teams in the playoffs, expanded use of video replay and testing for human growth hormone).

From the Daily News, “Article XV, Section A of MLB’s expiring Basic Agreement, in effect from 2006-2011, states: ‘The provisions of this Agreement shall be applied to all Players covered by this Agreement without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.’ In the new agreement, the words “sexual orientation” were added to Article XV.”

As a side note, the National Football League added a similar clause to it’s new CBA during the lockout last summer. 

The website Wide Rights, Info And Commentary On Gay Rights And The Sports Industry makes a great point about why this addition is so important. 

Tico Almedia, the president of LGBT organization Freedom to Work told the website, “In a majority of states in our country, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone just for being gay, and 13 of the 30 Major League teams are located in those states that allow anti-gay firings. No player should have to fear harassment or workplace retaliation if he were to publicly come out as gay.”

For a list of the teams located in states which do not have laws protecting against gay discrimination in the workplace, click here http://www.widerights.com/?p=1383

This news reminded me of Glenn Burke’s story.  Remember Burke, the young outfielder who showed a lot of promise with the Dodgers in the mid-1970’s and was mysteriously traded to the Oakland A’s for next to nothing, seemingly out of nowhere?  At 26 years old, Burke abruptly retired in 1980 and went into a tailspin using drugs and eventually being diagnosed with AIDS in 1994.  Only 42 years old, Burke died of complications from the disease in 1995.

As a favorite among fans and Dodgers teammates alike, Burke slowly revealed his sexuality to his teammates throughout his brief tenure in L.A.  In Out:  The Glenn Burke Story, filmmakers tell the story of Burke’s life and how coming out as a gay man derailed his baseball career.  In the film, Dusty Baker, who was Burke’s best friend on the team said, “I think the Dodgers knew; I think that’s why they traded Glenn [to Oakland].”

“I was shocked that he was traded… I walked into the clubhouse…and guys were visibly distraught over the trade, and that told me that my sense of how important he was to them internally was accurate,” said former Dodgers beat writer Lyle Spencer.  “I even remember a few players crying when they found out about it at their lockers, which is stunning.”

One might ask, how do you know the Dodgers organization knew?  There is plenty of anecdotal evidence which confirms suspicions.  Vincent Trahan, a friend of Burke’s from high school told the following story in the documentary.

“Al Campanis and Walter O’Malley had called him into the office and offered him $75,000 to get married. And Glenn, being his comic self, said, ‘I guess you mean to a woman?’… He was hurt because they traded him not for his baseball ability but for his life choice.”

This is the type of treatment that the new addition to the CBA is designed to stop.  While the clause will hopefully protect gay players from discrimination on a structural/organizational level, it will do little to curb the homophobia that is still so deeply rooted in male sports culture.

The closing paragraph in the Daily News article about the CBA addition highlights the potential for prejudice among players within a clubhouse.

"Still, there remains disagreement within locker rooms whether an MLB team is ready to accept an openly gay teammate. When news of the same-sex marriage law broke, several Mets said privately they would be uncomfortable with an openly gay teammate (while others said they would be comfortable). ‘Most of us are still Neanderthals,’ one Met explained."

While I feel like one public admission of being gay would be enough to get the ball rolling and help change the anti-gay culture in sports, I can’t blame athletes and coaches for staying in the closet.  Having spent hours upon hours in locker rooms and clubhouses, the thought of being the sacrificial lamb to brave that new world is a terrifying one, as anti-gay language is quite prevalent in that environment. 

Having said that, there are some teams out there right now that have the personnel to handle having a gay teammate.  There are hundreds of professional athletes who would welcome gay teammates with open arms.  As the laws change and society adjusts, so will the athletic community, which is why I believe we will see the first openly gay player in North American sports come out within the next five years. 


Read more from the New York Daily News’ article on the new MLB CBA here: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mlb-collective-bargaining-agreement-add-sexual-orientation-discrimination-clause-article-1.981161#ixzz1eZHCoSOB