What a difference a decade makes. Americans’ attitudes towards same sex marriage have shifted radically since 2004. Nine years ago, 55 percent of Americans disapproved of same-sex marriage. Now, 58 percent of Americans approve. That’s a staggering change. By the standards of American politics, we are moving along at warp speed.
Because attitudes have shifted, it is about time for the White Sox to clamp down on the sale of two offensive t-shirts outside the ballpark. For years, street side vendors (vendors who are licensed by the city but have no affiliation with the team) have been selling t-shirts with the Wrigley Field marquee that say “WRIGLEY FIELD: WORLD’S LARGEST GAY BAR.” After the Sox won the World Series, vendors started selling another hateful shirt. On one side of the shirt, a stick figure is hoisting a World Series trophy. The caption reads SOX PARADE. On the other side of the shirt, two male stick figures are holding hands under a rainbow. The caption says CUBS PARADE.
The implication, of course, is that Cubs fans are homosexuals who congregate at the Gay Pride Parade. This doesn't take into account the fact that the Gay Pride Parade in June draws one of the largest crowds in Chicago - gay or straight.
Look, I grew up in Beverly, and for years calling someone “a homo” was considered the height of wit. But I grew up. It wasn’t funny then, and it really isn’t funny now. Yes, there’s a group of people from my old neighborhood who still act in the same manner, but most of us have evolved into tolerant adults. The t-shirts only reflect the feelings of a (hopefully) small and angry portion of the fan base.
The t-shirt vendors are private business owners with no official connection to the White Sox. They probably have specific instructions on where and when they can set up shop. But they also reflect poorly on the team. The Chicago White Sox suspended Ozzie Guillen for making derogatory remarks about gays. Robin Ventura, Alexei Ramirez, John Danks, and Gordon Beckham recorded anti-bullying videos. The team may not be able to police what t-shirts are sold on public property outside of US Cellular Field…but they can certainly control who wears what going into the ballpark.
It’s in the rules:
“U.S. Cellular Field will be free from foul/abusive language or obscene gestures by guests.”
“Our guests experience will not be disrupted by unruly actions or behavior of others, including unauthorized persons entering the playing field.”
An anti-gay t-shirt would certainly fit the bill.
Before too long, an NFL player will come out of the closet. This has led to a great deal of debate over how the league will react. Will the players accept a gay teammate? Will the fans accept a gay player? How will the NFL police players who say they have an objection to a gay teammate? How will the NFL police derogatory signs?
According to a 2011 survey from the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School, 3.5% of American adults are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. If you extrapolate that down to a 25 man MLB roster, every team has at least one gay player. It is just a matter of time before a current player openly declares his sexual orientation.
When that happens, baseball fans will be asking the same questions. Will he be accepted by teammates? Will ushers have to scan the stands for offensive signs? The first openly gay player on an active baseball roster will have to endure a number of trials and tribulations. He might get sideways glances from his teammates. He might be called out by opposing players. If he’s an outfielder, I’m guessing the heckling from the stands will be less than diplomatic.
Former Los Angeles Dodger and Oakland A Glenn Burke was the first player to come out of the closet. But he did it in 1982, three years after he played his last game. The current collective bargaining agreement has a clause that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Curt Schilling says he had gay teammates over the years. Their orientation was known inside the clubhouse, and no one had a problem with it. Justin Verlander says he would welcome a gay teammate.
Now would be a good a time as any for a player to actually come out. He would have the institutional protection of Major League Baseball, the support of most teammates, and (I would assume) the support of the fan base.
He would be standing on the shoulders of those who fought and suffered to move society forward.
He would also be doing a tremendous service to the thousands of fans who would suddenly feel less alone.