I’ve spent 10 minutes looking through Michael Sam articles today and not one of them tells me why his being drafted matters from a sports perspective so I can’t tell you how good of a football player he is. But what I CAN tell you, for those of you that perhaps don’t follow sports, is that while being drafted into the NFL at all is an extraordinary achievement, being drafted 249th overall in the 7th round is, in the world of entry drafts, a relatively insignificant signing. Not being able to find one news source talking about his statistics and talents as a defensive end among any of the top news items on any search engine, and instead all of them talking only about him being gay is NOT a sign of tolerance and progress in sports. It’s a sign as clear as day that no matter what an athletes talents are, their sexual orientation still matters more than their numbers.
Yes, this is and should be a source of pride and hope and inspiration for the gay community in and out of sports, but for everyone else and for the following and analysing of sports it couldn’t possibly be less relevant or be less of a story. And journalists and news outlets do this athlete and any other gay athletes a disservice when they only talk about his sexual orientation and not the skills that he’s spent the greater part of his life honing to try to be the best at what he does. You want to know the only thing that’s going to matter to the Rams (the team that drafted him) in winter when the season is over if he even makes the team (which at this point is not definite)? Sacks, Hurries, and Tackles for a Loss. You’d celebrate him more, if that was your aim, by learning what those stats are than learning the story of his sexual orientation and I have a feeling that like many other openly gay people in the public eye, he’d say the same thing.
Repeatedly in the past weeks, there have been people online grossly misunderstanding and downplaying the severity of what has been said by the Russian government by way of their president with respect to homosexuality and this year’s Winter Olympics. The degree of indifference to this issue shocks me because it’s another typical example of how popularity determines whether an issue is important or not. A gay rights issue at the Winter Olympics and nobody cares. But what if the mayor of a city hosting the Super Bowl were to say he or she was against one of the teams playing because they had a gay player on the team? The internet would collectively explode in reaction.
The Olympics official website has a downloadable version of their Olympic Charter. In it, you’ll find their ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’. This quote that follows is from the 4th principle (I knocked off the end bit but I didn’t reword it in any way)
“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.”
Am I the only one not understanding how the privilege of hosting the Olympics can be given to a country that last June passed a law forbidding “the promotion of homosexuality and other forms of nontraditional sexual relations”? They also outlawed “gay pride” festivals and attempts by foreign homosexualist activist groups to normalize their lifestyles or to campaign for same-sex legal recognition. No, no, no. Can’t have that. Can’t have homosexuals wanting to be considered “normal”. And certainly not with the help of any immoral foreigners who might be perfectly happy being gay. That just isn’t right! But, it’s ok everyone, the Olympic Games can go on as planned because the country’s president, Vladimir Putin has said, literally (again, not changing the words) that gays can go to Russia, they just have to “leave the children in peace”. Mr. Putin’s clearly never asked gay adults how many of them had heterosexual parents because he seems to be under the impression that homosexuality is something you can catch like a cold or stomach flu if you aren’t “left in peace” when you’re a child. To say nothing of the fact that there are plenty of heterosexual people that engage in some pretty “nontraditional sexual relations”. Homosexuality isn’t brainwashed into you, Mr. Putin. It can’t be shown to you so many times that you decide, “hey, that sounds like a good deal, I think I’ll be gay”. It’s not something people can embed in your head and repeat to you over and over until you decide you’d better do it so that you can fit in and not to be different. No, Mr. Putin, these things don’t describe homosexuality at all, they describe intolerance.
So we’ve got a country who’s president doesn’t want foreigners bringing their nontraditional sexual ideologies to his country, athletes who can be gay as long as they don’t infect Russian children with their gayness and don’t seek to be equals (can’t wait to see a gay athlete win gold). I’m sorry, IOC (International Olympic Committee), you haven’t increased awareness and tolerance by granting Russia the Olympics under this president, you’ve rewarded the ignorance displayed by their legal system. And seeing the outpouring from the global community about this issue, with ample time to amend your decision, you chose not to do so. So tell us, what part of Russian law pertaining to homosexuals do you see exactly as contributing to your principles of “practising sport without discrimination of any kind”?
Sixty-three years ago this past weekend, a wrecking ball painted like a baseball ploughed into a dugout in Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers beginning the demolition of a part of the borough that would leave a void in the hearts of its people to this day.
If you don’t get Baseball, if sports just don’t speak to you, and if you think affection for a stadium seems something rather silly, consider the following…
Think of your favourite town; maybe it’s where you live. Picture the restaurant where you order without looking at the menu and feel like you’re in your own living room. Picture the grocery store where you run into people you know and strangers whose faces you recognize. Picture the shop that knows what you order and how you like it done. Picture those two streets that meet at that one corner that makes you smile every time you walk past it. Think of the place you want to see first when you get back from being out of town. And then picture all of that taken away at once. In one weekend. Not slowly, like the encroaching spread of gentrification but in one immediate concrete crushing demolition. This is about more than just Baseball, but about a neighbourhood being left with a giant hole where a vital part of the community once stood and because of nothing more than someone deciding there was more money to be made by moving the team elsewhere.
We tend to see sports today with more cynical eyes than in the past. Professional sport has, through many recent struggles and public embarrassments, left an image that inspires very little adulation and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of even its most ardent admirers. The steroid scandals of the past ten to fifteen years marked the fall of what were some of my first sports heroes as a child. But there was a time when these sports and their teams and their players meant more to their communities in eras when less distractions and pastimes gave sport a more important place in daily life. Sports teams have the ability of becoming inextricably linked to the cities they play for, until they become as much a part of every fan’s home as their own living room. Such is the case with L.A.’s Lakers, Toronto’s Maple Leafs, Green Bay’s Packers, and indeed even to this day with Brooklyn’s Dodgers.
It’s oddly fitting that the anniversary of the demolition falls on the eve of the stirrings and small chatter of news stories that lead to Spring Training where we remember last year’s players and their successes, welcome new faces, argue incessantly about the ones sent away, and where for a short while every team has a chance, no matter how implausible, of being crowned champions. The segment I’ve linked to below from Rick Burns’ documentary “Baseball” explains the weight of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn beautifully. If you like sports, and I would argue that especially if you don’t, it’s worth watching this short clip. For those of us who love baseball and get a rush each April when we see our team in uniform again, it’s a clip that speaks to an emotional connection many of us have with the game because of what it represents in our lives very often from its first impressions in childhood. Fans from any city and fans of any sport find something to relate to with the story of the Dodgers and how a piece of land that was once a garbage dump called ‘Pigtown’ helped make a borough one of the most recognised places in the world and gave the game of Baseball memorable moments that are cherished to this day.
Check out the video I mentioned, HERE.