Homophobia, 2012: Alive and Well in the Sports World

Last week, Yunel Escobar, SS for the Toronto Blue Jays, was suspended for 3 games. He wore a blantantly homophobic slur written into the black stripes under his eyes in Spanish, “Tu ere maricon.”  Translated, this means “you are a faggot.”

His press conference, defending his action, was more than ridiculous, trying to convince us that his words were not meant to do harm, but rather were misunderstood due to “cultural differences.”

Right.  Just as I was impressed with the White Sox offense on this last road trip: 4 for 41 with RISP, 36 LOB, with a 1-5 record.

Which brings me back to 1990, as I was completing my PhD at Loyola University and teaching at U. of I. Circle Campus. On my way to work, I was listening to an NPR interview with Dave Pallone, about his new book, “Behind the Mask:  My Double Life in Baseball.”

Pallone was the umpire who had that infamous altercation with Pete Rose, which is still available on You Tube.  So here was a man who wanted nothing more than to be an umpire since his boyhood days of growing up in Beantown.

Say what you want about Pallone’s 10 year career, and his being considered a “scab” during the umpire’s strike, when he got called up and accepted a position as a Major League umpire, being promoted from the Minor Leagues.

On the radio, Pallone talked about being gay. In the closet.  An MLB umpire from Boston, fulfilling his childhood dream.  And no one to turn to, and the difficulty of living with this secret his entire life.

But after 10 years, MLB and Commissioner Bart Giamatti trumped up various charges, accusing Pallone’s involvement in a “teen-age sexual ring.”  No evidence was found to this hideous accusation, but was the excuse to remove him from baseball, period.

I bought the book and couldn’t put it down.  Chapters 2 and 3, describing his personal struggles as an Irish Catholic boy, playing baseball as any Boston kid would during childhood and adolescence, became required reading for many of my university courses, especially on human behavior and development.

The personal description of what it was like to “come of age” and discover he was “unlike” his Little League teammates, was quite eloquent– something I strongly believed every student could learn from. And they told me as such, with many students  purchasing the entire book for their own reading.

Fast forward to 2002:  my commute to Sacramento State as a professor, listening to KNBR, “The Sports Leader” from SF Bay Area radio.  The show’s host was Gary Radnich. He reported how the SF 49er’s running back, Garrison Hearst, responded to the recent “coming out as gay” of Esera Tuaolo, an NFL defensive tackle.

Hearst responded by saying, “ Hell no! I don’t want any faggots on my team…(or) in this locker room.”  It took three weeks for Hearst to apologize.

Tualo played for several teams from 1991-1999, reaching the Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons in 1999.  Esera reported of various homophobic slurs simply thrown out as “acceptable language,” in the general locker room, throughout his career.  His book is “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL” (2006).

We’re now in 2012.  And no policy exists in any of the 4 major sports regarding homophobic slurs made by players.  Towards each other, their coaches, managers, the public, or fans.  None.

And yet, Frank Bruni from the New York Times and Marcos Breton in the Sacramento Bee, both wrote their Sunday editorials on Kevin McClatchy, the former owner and CEO of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 11 years. McClatchy  took “great pains” to remain silent regarding his being gay, to the players, and the other teams’ owners.

As Bruni wrote, “…the world of professional sports, to which he…(McClatchy)…is still connected, isn’t exactly crowded with proud, out gay men and women…and that one active player among the tens of thousands of people playing over the last 40 years have not “come out.”

Who will take the lead to protect his player, or an umpire, or a referee, who is physically harmed for his or her  gay/ lesbian/ bisexual orientation?  Gary Bettman? Roger Goodell? Bud Selig? David Stern?

Certainly not Bettman and his NHL owners, who are now locking out their players and possibly canceling/ delaying the NHL season. Or Goodell and his team owners, who refuse to negotiate with our professional NFL refs on a new contract, which apparently is stuck in the neighborhood of approximately $100,000/ team.

Who DO you call?  If only our Chicago team of Ghostbusters was still around.

Well I’m here to remind you that last Friday, September 21, 2012 was the first anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT).

From December 21, 1993 to September 20, 2011 DADT prohibited military personnel from harassing and/or discriminating against gay, lesbian, or bisexual (GLB) service members.  However, it also prohibited GLB personnel to be open about their sexual orientation.

But due to DADT, the Service Members Legal Defense Network reports that 14,500 GLB were discharged, costing our government $193 million, ruined lives, and did “nothing to for national security.”

So if Bill Murray or Dan Akroyd can’t help professional sports, I’d go read the report from 2007, written by now deceased former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, and Former Senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen, who cited a poll of more than 500 service members returning from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people.

Or inquire of the 28 retired generals and admirals who urged Congress to repeal DADT, citing evidence that 65,000 gay men and women were currently serving in the armed forces, along with over a million GLB veterans. Or the 104 retired generals and admirals who strongly agreed with this assessment in 2008.

I wish we had come a long way regarding homophobia in our society, regardless of the obvious behavior of some.

But until we believe that our government can provide a service or study worth replicating in the private sector, e.g., for our 4 main organized sports, there will always be those who distrust Uncle Sam.  And sadly, we have too many citizens “coming out” on THAT issue these days.

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  • I wonder if you would be writing this screed if Yunel Escobar had "odio a los blancos" embossed under his eyes? No, of course not.

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    Dr. Janice Gagerman

    My brother put a mitt in my hand at 5 years old, and the rest was history. Grew up on 89th and Clyde near CVS. I sat shot-gun in my father's taxi cab, listening to Sox and Bears games on the radio. Taught my 12" softball womens' teammates how to slide into 2nd base like Aparicio. Been a Professor for 25 years but never lost my love for Sports. Raised a family, and work in my garden and orchard. I can't stand technology, but have adapted.

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