By Dan Woog -
SGN Contributing Writer
As one decade ends and another begins, The OutField pauses to survey the GLBT sports world. We've come a long way, baby, from the days when the term 'Gay athlete' was regarded as an oxymoron at best, repulsive at worst.
Life is still not peachy-keen, of course. Players and coaches remain closeted. Anti-Gay rhetoric still flows. But a tipping point seems nearer than ever.
Take this story - one of several reported by Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation intern Emily Witko in a roundup titled 'Media Paying Attention to LGBT Sport Issues.' When Outsports.com reported that Dallas Mavericks basketball player Drew Gooden referred to two Los Angeles Clippers fans as 'faggots,' one of the men e-mailed Mavs' coach Mark Cuban from his BlackBerry. Cuban quickly responded: 'I appreciate you telling me. I will deal w Drew.'
Similarly, when Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson used anti-Gay slurs, the football team docked him a week's pay - about $315,000 - and suspended him for a game. His agent said, "Larry apologized. He learned from it, and hopefully other people learned from it. My hope is that people learn that something positive can come out of this, and that there are words that should not be used because they demean people."
Homophobic slurs are not confined to the U.S. Witko reports that Danish soccer team FC Midtjylland fired star goalkeeper Arek Onyszko for writing in his book, Fucking Polak: "I hate Gays, I really do. I think it's fucking disgusting to hear them talk to each other as if they are girls. I can't be in the same room as someone who's Gay. Look at them kissing each other - it's sickening." Onyszko is no stranger to controversy. In 2008 he was fired from another squad, after a conviction of assault on his ex-wife. He served three months in prison.
Back in the U.S., Major League Baseball welcomed its first openly Gay owner in October. Laura Ricketts - who serves on the board of Lambda Legal - joined her family in purchasing the Chicago Cubs, for $845 million. The earth did not stop revolving - and the Cubs, a non-World Series contender since 1908, did not immediately become competitive - but Ricketts' ascension to the highest level of the baseball world may be significant simply because no one cared.
The Gay sports world heard a voice for equality from a straight source, too, when former pro Justin Bourne wrote a column in USA Today headlined: "It's Time to End the Use of Gay Slurs in Hockey."
Bourne - who, Witko says, used anti-Gay slurs "many times himself" during his career - recognized that the atmosphere in homophobic locker rooms may keep talented Gay players out of the game.
"It's time to acknowledge we've been unfair to the Gay community," Bourne said. "The culture of our sport can be misogynistic, homophobic and cruel. More important, it's time to make a stand that we want it to change."
One hockey player who may benefit from Bourne's stand - if it is heeded, and adopted, by the sport - is a 17-year-old named "Mikey." He lives in a suburb of Minneapolis, is captain of his high school team, and blogs regularly
Writing in blog-speak, Mikey says: "im Gay and not out and spend my whole life with jocks who are mostly anti Gay. it usually sucks, but its cool i get to play hockey." He writes about the usual: practices and games, shoveling snow and worrying about waking up in a hotel on a road trip where teammates sleep two to a bed, spooning with a teammate and - well, this is a family column. Check out http://hockeykidmn.blogspot.com for a look into what it's like to be a Gay high school athlete these days - and, in many ways, just a normal teenager.
Finally, a shout out to an entire hockey team. This one is the girls squad from Woodstock, New Brunswick. The Lady Thunder team won a Canadian provincial human rights award for standing up for two teammates who came out.
According to CBC News, Alyssa McLean and Sierra Paul were supported by Lady Thunder players - but taunted by rivals. The opposing team refused to shake the two girls' hands. The same girls were then treated rudely at a fast-food restaurant.
Their Woodstock teammates devised a plan. They created rainbow-colored buttons, with the word "homophobia" crossed out. The girls wore the buttons to games.
A team in Edmundston, Canada asked what the buttons were about. The Woodstock players gave them some - and their opponents immediately put them on.
The Woodstock girls were "a model for the promotion of human rights among youth," said New Brunswick Human Rights Commission chair Gordon Porter, in making the award.
Happily, they are not the only ones speaking out - and standing up - for GLBT athletes everywhere.
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the Jocks series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his Web site at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
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