|Sean Avery announced his support of gay marriage in May.
I am a huge sports fan. If you ask the dame she will tell you that when the TV is on, it is usually on a game: football in the fall, basketball all winter and spring, baseball in spring and summer. I fill in spaces with golf. I draw the line at bowling (we all have our limits, no?). As a lesbian, and a fan and an athlete - I played Division III volleyball and softball in college - I have had to live with a firewall between my identity and my interests. Homophobia in all sports, menâ€™s and womenâ€™s, amateur and professional, remains strong.
The LGBT community has been successful in breaking into public consciousness in nearly every arena: religion, schools, workplace, entertainment, etc., but sports has been tough to crack. Why? It all comes down to the locker room. When people get naked, they get weird (this is true is so many ways, no?).
But latelyâ€¦ have you noticed? The debate about equal rights has seeped into this last bastion of homophobia. It started with my new hero, Sean Avery, a professional hockey player with the New York Rangers, who in May stated his support of gay marriage. I may have to become a hockey fan. Iâ€™m sure he could not have imagined at the time the firestorm that he would kick up. But kick up it did. It blew the lid off the topic altogether, I would say.
A real dialogue among the worldâ€™s most elite athletes has begun. And it is a dialogue. We are seeing in unprecedented numbers, professional and high-profile amateur athletes, stating their position on gay marriage. Of late, the numbers are in our favor with more saying â€śI doâ€ť rather than â€śI donâ€™t.â€ť And of course, there are still plenty of bigots with big microphones. Michael Tyree says he would trade his Super Bowl winning catch to keep marriage between a man and a woman. Kobe Bryant, Joakim Noah and Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell have recently hurled gay slurs and then quickly apologized. We are used to these outbursts, no? But now the monologue from the sports industry has become a dialogue with the numbers increasingly on our side. Since weâ€™re talking about sports, letâ€™s keep score, shall we?
Sean Avery, New York Rangers (hockey): Avery announced his support of gay marriage in an HRC video released in May to support legislation in New York.
Charles Barkley (retired, basketball): The future hall-of-famer was all over the news in May supporting Sean Avery, but his support dates back further. He has been a supporter of the LGBT community for years. He told Mike Wise of The Washington Post, â€śIâ€™d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who canâ€™t play. Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakinâ€™ idiotâ€¦ Iâ€™ve been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because as a black person, I canâ€™t be in for any form of discrimination at all.â€ť
Steve Nash (basketball): The future hall of famer point guard with the Phoenix Suns also provided a statement for HRC for the New York Marriage Equality campaign, saying â€śA growing number of professional athletes are speaking out in support of gay and lesbian couples getting married, Iâ€™m proud to be one of them. Join me and the supermajority of New Yorkers who support marriage equality.â€ť
Paul Bissonnette (hockey): Took to Twitter shortly after Averyâ€™s supportive statements to agree, â€śI agree with Sean Avery... If 2 people are happy together let them be happy.â€ť
Ben Cohen (retired, rugby): Straight British rugby start Cohen launched his â€śAcceptance Tourâ€ť earlier this year in an effort to protect gay youth from bullying.
Hudson Taylor (wrestling): Taylor, a University of Maryland wrestler, ranked 3rd in the country in the 197 pound weight class wears an HRC sticker on his helmet and said â€śFor me and my generation, [LGBT rights] is a pressing issue... I believe that whatever history Iâ€™m a part of, Iâ€™m responsible for. If I feel something is unjust or unequal, I feel a responsibility to do something about it.â€ť
Rick Welts (basketball executive): The openly gay head of the Phoenix Suns is the highest-ranking openly gay executive in menâ€™s pro sports.
Grant Hill (basketball): Hill participated in an NBA-sponsored PSA designed to discourage youth from using gay slurs. He told ABC News, â€śAs athletes, as role models, whatever you want to call us, weâ€™re in a position to do something better... And to preach that message to our youth and to our adults, because letâ€™s be honest there are adults out there who use this kind of language who donâ€™t know or arenâ€™t aware theyâ€™re being offensive.â€ť
Jared Dudley (basketball): Dudley, another Phoenix player, joined Grant Hill for the NBA PSA encouraging kids to use non-discriminatory language.
And of course we cannot forget the athletes that have declared they are gay or lesbian and have had a huge impact, from the inside out, in making sports less homophobic. The Hall-of-Fame list includes: John Amaechi (basketball), David Kopay (football), Sheryl Swoopes (basketball), Martina Navratilova (tennis), Billie Jean King (tennis), Greg Louganis (diving), and Muffin Spencer-Devlin (golf).
David Tyree (retired, football): King of the homophobes, in fact. He is so against gay marriage that he says he would trade his big catch against New England in Super Bowl XLII (and therefore his Super Bowl ring) to keep marriage a heterosexual institution. He has been everywhere lately speaking on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage.
Peter Vidmar (retired, Olympic gymnast): The two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in 1984 helped the campaign for Prop. 8 and was quoted at a Rancho demonstration as saying,â€ť Itâ€™s good for our society to have a traditional definition of marriage.â€ť
Todd Reynolds (agent): Responded to Averyâ€™s announcement, saying â€śVery sad to read Sean Averyâ€™s misguided support of same-gender â€śmarriageâ€ť. Legal or not, it will always be wrong.â€ť
Andâ€¦ well, thatâ€™s it. I tried really hard to find more, but the news is mostly good. Of course, Tyree is talking enough to support the entire homophobic population.
Despite the fact that I am a newspaper editor, I am not a cynic. I often annoy my political friends with my optimism, and discussions like this one are why I am so hopeful. I believe that once the conversation begins, progress has been made. Remember Silence = Death? Itâ€™s still true.
For those of you with tender hearts, times like this can feel disheartening; homophobia crawls out of the walls and we hear lots of people, often ignorant and uneducated people, suggesting that we are lesser than they. But we also have the good men and women of conscience, thoughtful and intelligent leaders in their fields who cannot remain silent, and they influence millions. Like Ellen Degeneresâ€™ coming out, this is going to be huge. Stay tuned.
Dayna Verstegen is the Editor of the Bay Times