It’s been barely four months since Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in a major American team sport to declare he is gay, but the positive vibes continue to reverberate.
And the support of a host of professional teams from across the sports spectrum in the “It Gets Better” campaign has been invaluable in helping gay and transgender teens to gain respect and understanding in an often hostile society.
But their road continues to be pock-marked, as the message hasn’t apparently reached all corners of sports that intolerance isn’t a winning play.
Last week, word spread that members of the University of Mississippi football team, along with other student-athletes, yelled homophobic slurs in a darkened theater. The conduct reportedly took place during a student performance of The Laramie Project, the true-life story of a young Wyoming man who was murdered because he was gay. No doubt sensing the potential public relations fallout, the school’s president and athletic director immediately issued a statement condemning the conduct and pledging to investigate.
Meanwhile, the football coach, Hugh Freeze, tweeted out that "We certainly do not condone any actions that offend or hurt people in any way. We are working with all departments involved to find the facts.”
And, according to the school newspaper, members of the football team apologized at the request of the athletic department.
By late Friday, the school’s Bias Incident Response Team, after a 45-minute interview with the players, said, in effect, that it could not conclusively determine that only the athletes were involved because the theater was dark. The report said that no one mentioned a specific athlete or mentioned any names. Still, the athletic department is requiring all the football players present at the play to attend "an educational dialogue session."
As we mentioned at the top, sports has made a quantum leap forward in just a few short years. The notion, for instance, that players like former Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayambedejo and former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe would have been so outspoken in favor of same-sex marriage would have been unthinkable, say, five years ago.
But you may have noticed the word former before both their names, as both players are currently out of football. In fairness, Ayambedejo is 36, a senior citizen in football terms, but Kluwe is an All-Star quality punter. It’s hard to imagine that their high profiles have helped land them on-field jobs.
Truth is, there’s still an undercurrent of homophobia and bias in sports. Male athletes who don’t perform at a high level are referred to in subtle and not so subtle terms. And you can be sure that if someone says your son throws like a girl, they don’t mean it as a compliment.
The language of the playing field is often not for the faint of heart, and it probably should stay that way. But when the battle is over, the combatants should leave that language at the edge of the playing field or at the locker room door.
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