Three remarkable news stories today show the beautiful and the ugly side of LGBT issues in sports, and suggest that, despite the remaining bigotry, there's hope.
We'll start with the inspirational: The Chron reports on Gabrielle Ludwig, a 51-year-old trans woman who has fought her way to acceptance as a player on the Mission College women's basketball team. She's endured the sort of rotten, painful slurs that Jackie Robinson put up with as the first black player in Major League Baseball, but she's won over her teammates and sent an important message to young people all over the world:
Since I decided to go out to the media, there's been a larger purpose - to help the LGBT community and all those people who have lost children because they struggle with, 'God, am I gay, am I straight, am I transgender? F- it, let's put a rope around my neck and hang myself in the garage,' " Ludwig said. "If I can be a role model, and just let go of some of that burden, then what I do out here and the beating that I take from people in the stands ... it's worth it."
And then we go to the NFL, where team execs at the "combine" -- where scouts and coaches check out college players headed for the draft -- are asking not-at-all-subtle questions about sexual orientation.
In a normal workplace (and the NFL isn't remotely normal, as a workplace or anything else) asking a job applicant if he "likes girls" would be blatantly illegal. In pro football, it's apparently tolerated, because the top brass in the NFL still can't come to terms with their responsibility to prevent homophobia.
Everyone knows there are gay NFL players. And it's only a matter of time before someone comes out. When that happens, the league has a repsonsibility to prevent the kind of shit that Gabrielle Ludwig is going through.So far, not so good.
Now for the hope: While everyone's talking about the Obama administration's amicus brief on same-sex marriage, an equally interesting brief has gotten lost. Two NFL players -- yes, two players in the same league that is asking people if they like girls -- have filed their own amicus brief, arguing that, as professional sports figures, they have a responsibility to stand up for the rights of all people to marry:
Under all the bad behavior that makes the news, male professional sports for far too long have harbored bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice—with respect to both race and sexual orientation," the brief reads. "We are just beginning to see progress with regard to the issue of sexual orientation.
They say exactly what Ludwig says:
If a Pro Bowler treats a teammate as being an equal who is worthy of his friendship and respect because that other person is a good friend who places the team before himself, then high schoolers in Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania,California, and Minnesota will not—cannot—miss that example. If that Pro Bowler speaks out publicly and kindly, kids will hear it and feel it. Kids who are already dealing with everything youth throws at them will know they can treat others as friends and equals, and those others will know they are equal and that, without question, it is better to be themselves than to be hurt.
So a handful of NFL players are supporting marriage equality and speaking out. They've opened the last closet door a crack. And, like the debate over same-sex marraige, this is only going in one direction.