Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Level playing field

High five, Jason Collins. You’re awesome, you’re inspiring, you’re essential to our continued struggle for full equality. You are not, however, the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. This takes nothing away from your accomplishment and your courage in coming forward and coming out. But there are openly gay active female players on several American sports teams and sports who have blazed a trail and deserve recognition.

When news broke yesterday the headlines I saw were all a variation on “Jason Collins first openly gay active player” and “Jason Collins first active gay player in major sports.” As the day wore on, several modified that headline with an important word: “Male.” Collins, a 34-year-old who was center for the Washington Wizards, is indeed the first active American gay male player in one of the four major American sports teams – basketball, baseball, hockey and football. But active American gay female players exist in basketball and softball – not to mention soccer, tennis, golf and more.

Your Brittney Griner and Sheryl Swoopes (basketball), your Vicky Galindo and your Lauren Lappin (softball), your Megan Rapinoe and your Natasha Kai (soccer), your Martina Navratilova (tennis), your Patty Sheehan (golf). I could go on.

When Griner came out earlier this month as the first professional WNBA player to come out at the start of her career, it was greeted with headlines like, “Female Star Comes Out as Gay, and Sports World Shrugs” and “Brittney Griner coming out is no big deal, and that's a big deal.”

Yet Collins coming out was in continuous discussion on ESPN and across the frontpages of sports sections everywhere. So in case you were wondering, that double standard is alive and very well.

Granted, I understand that there are inherent and significant cultural differences between the perception of gay male athletes and gay female athletes. One could joke that for female athletes being lesbian or bisexual is almost the default assumption. That’s a stretch, of course, but the ugly stereotype is that girl jocks are considered “too manly to be straight” and guy jocks are considered “too manly to be gay.” The cult of machismo continues to smell worse than a locker room on a hot day.

Look, I am not being ungrateful about Collins coming out. Quite the opposite. He could well be the game-changer to open the closet door wider for more to follow. I am thrilled for the positive support coming from everyone from Michelle Obama to Bill Clinton to Kobe Bryant to Steve Nash more. And I am disgusted by the Chris Broussards of the world who fall back on the old bigotry of the past. I would just like it acknowledged that female professional athletes are also part of this conversation, have been blazing a trail and matter when it comes to creating an accepting sports culture for all who want to play. Hive fives all around.

NOTE: Nothing in this post is a denigration of Collins' accomplishment and importance, nor an expression of anything but happiness at his coming out yesterday. I could not be happier about it. What it is is a multifaceted expression of emotions based on the media coverage of his coming out. We, as humans, are capable of feeling multiple things all at once. Like in the late evening on Nov. 4, 2008 when my heart was filled with pride and joy at our nation electing its first African-American president in its history. But on that same night, at the same time, my heart was also filled with sorrow that my fellow California voters deemed my love unworthy of being officially recognized by the state by passing Proposition 8. One does not take away from the other. Saying I am proud of Jason Collins and I wish gay female athletes were given more respect in the media are not mutually exclusive ideas. We can do both.


Erica said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

No doubt every lesbian thought the exact same thing. I did.

Anonymous said...

I'm a lesbian and I appreciate what you're saying about there being far more female athletes who are out and have been out. However, love it or hate it, there are billions of dollars in professional mens' sports, they are far and away the most watched (tennis might be an exception), and having a currently active player (he was cut before this announcement, so the real story will be if he ever plays in an NBA uniform after this announcement) in the big four come out.

On a media scale, in terms of importance to the overwhelming majority of rabid sports fans, and the fact that the NBA will always be huger than the WNBA, women's soccer, or female pro-golfing makes this a huger deal. It isn't because he's a man, it is because of our media landscape, this time in his career, the huge part the NBA plays in our culture, and seeing whether an NBA team will give him, just like it gave the equally hapless Juwan Howard (not gay) the chance to start two games last season. If He gets to be gay in an NBA uniform. Some things jut have higher stakes and it cannot solely be tied to gender. You're dismissing so much of what Collins is risking and how big a deal this is in terms of sports. Also, there's the whole black guy coming out thing which you've completely ignored. It is easier for black women to come out and to diminish the backlash he's facing. It is culturally ignorant of you and you must be ignoring the backlash he's been getting from "black Twitter." I'm not surprised by how your casual dismissal and treating his coming out the same as Swoopes coming out, for example. The so-called "gay community" has never been good with race, anyway and seeing how segregated it is, I'm not surprised. This is typical coverage of people of color by gay members: ignorance, insensitivity, and irrelevance. And yes, Ms. Snarker, I know that you aren't white.

I still love you and your blog, but I'm very disappointed in this. Perhaps ignorance of the sports world; how sports and black bodies don't have a symbiotic relationship; and the unique issues black men face don't resonate with you. I don't think there was any malice behind what you wrote, but it was callous and ignorant. Try to remember not all of us come out to the same population, be it familial or fan base.

Local SEO Dallas said...

I salute Jason Collins for telling the whole world that he's a gay. He's courage is something that we can't deny.

Alan said...

Fantastic, well-said and spot on. We should support Collins but not forget or denigrate the efforts of the women athletes who are out and rockin'.

Carmen SanDiego said...

And UFC fighter Liz Carmouche too!
But yes, I am curious as to whether Collins will be picked up by an NBA team after this announcement

Roz Turner said...

@Anonymous no.2

Perhaps you've missed the point of this post. The way I read it, there's a point being made about the gender double standard in the media coverage of similar 'outings' and sports in general. To expect the post to cover the controversy from what you describe as "black Twitter" seems a little off considering that isn't the point she's trying to make.

"Ignorance, insensitivity, and irrelevance" seems unduly harsh for a writer blogging about gender rather than race, and it's this reactionary shout equivalent to 'check your privilege' that does more to silence writers than enable issues to be talked about and, most importantly, heard. You distract from the very valid point about the stark differences in the way women's sports compared to men's are treated - which is an issue that should be heard and addressed, and makes sense in the context of this post and older posts on Snarker's blog.

The conversation about race, too, is a valid one - while I write this as a white, cis-gendered, middle-class, often-dull woman married to another woman, my wife is of Jamaican-Indian heritage and her coming out was extremely difficult. She is more qualified to write about the experiences as a black, gay woman, and I wouldn't dare try to speak for her.

I have a feeling, in this regard, that Ms. Snarker would have been damned if she did write about race, and damned if she didn't (her racial identity notwithstanding). So your 'privilege checking' exercise comes off as hollow shouting in the face of a perfectly reasonable blog post, which should be appreciated for what it is - a thorough and well-written piece on the disgusting double standards, gender-wise, that persist even now.

Anonymous said...


Karin said...

I agree more with the second anonymous poster, although it was slightly harsh, but you have to look at it a different way...the big 4 male sports command much more media, advertising $$, audience, and attention than women's sports. My wife and i go dodgers and the clippers games for free because the partners at her law firm have season tix but tix to the LA sparks are free through their diversity fund. It's just a whole different ballgame. And don't get me started on the difference between team sports and individual sports - coaches, teammates, the lockerroom - it's just a whole different dynamic (full disclosure - I played softball in college). If you want to discuss women's sports and the gay stereotyping and girls trying to pass off as straight or coaches not recruiting lesbians and even trying to kick them off the team, that's a great topic for another day. The racial issue here - I really can't say much because I'm as white as they come, but I do have a masters in public health and studied MSM in the black community and it is a HUGE deal.

In the grand scheme of things, Jason coming out is huge for the entire LGBT community and for the sports world. We shouldn't try to take that away and turn it into a gender thing or compete and say women did it first.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. Really do you not understand that men's sports are the only ones that matter? I also wonder how long his career will last? We are where we are and we can't change it.

Anonymous said...

Roz Turner, I agree with you completely, you expressed that much clearer than I ever could lol.

It is a discussion on the gender double standards in sports people. Ms. Snarker stated SEVERAL times that she could not be happier about Jason Collins coming out, and that it is an extremely positive and courageous event. However, this was a clear discussion of how the double standard is handled in the media and our society, almost negating that women who come out in professional sports are a big deal.

I've played sports all of my life, continuing into adulthood, and I find these kinds of double standards so frustrating as they perpetuate existing sexism that I and so many other women have experienced while growing up playing sports.

tlsintx said...

Nice post, Snarks. Men are more valued in society. Period. Meanwhile, women go about their business, often leading the way.

I think the best thing about Jason coming out is his race, not that he's a male pro athlete.

Affordable Search Engine Optimization Services said...

I'm sure he's a nice man and he can get through it.