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EDGE 10.0: The Decade in Sports

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 18, 2014

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, EDGE is proud to launch "EDGE 10.0: The Decade in," a retrospective series of features looking back on the past ten years of headlines, politics, personalities, trends, music, film, parties, etc... written by Editor in Chief Emeritus Steve Weinstein, and the current editorial staff at EDGE.

As an LGBT news, entertainment and lifestyle site, EDGE has always placed great importance on sports. Not only are many of our readers involved in gay adult teams, but, like any website with a large gay male readership, there's a lot of interest in individual sports like tennis. The explosion in popularity of gay sports bars like Boxers in New York City gives the lie to the stereotype that gay men don't follow pro sports.

Since there's such intense interest in fitness among our readers, we have an entire section dedicated to bringing the most up-to-date information. On the news pages, the content has mostly covered pro leagues, college teams and sports in public, private and parochial schools.

Looking back on 10 years gives us the chance to reflect on the dramatic changes that have taken place in every realm of human endeavor. Still, sports may present the most remarkable progress. Ten years ago, it was still not only OK but also practically mandated that athletes from the pros to elementary school, expressed the most virulent homophobia.

Today, the situation has reversed itself. Although there are still instances of homophobia, pro athletes, their teams and their leagues have become among the most supportive celebrities and institutions for our cause. Much work remains on the college and lower levels, but there, too, the progress has been nothing short of astounding.

This article will necessarily limit itself to the pro world, because that is a story that is worth being told.

Since it began as a regional site in 2004, EDGE has always been able to find great sports writers, such as Roger Brigham. A member of the executive committee of the Gay Games, Brigham is respected as one of the movers and shakers on the national gay wrestling scene. Another is Cyd Zeigler, Jr., the well-known founder of Outsports, whose inside knowledge and reporting on several important stories over the years has given EDGE the edge in sports journalism.

Since EDGE began in Boston, it’s only fitting that EDGE began its sports coverage with the Hub’s favorite local team. Back in 2006 - two years after EDGE began - contributor Stacy Coronis complained about the Sox trading Bronson Arroyo. The next year, EDGE celebrated the Red Sox’ World Series victory along with everyone else.

But soon enough, EDGE was covering a major star in a pro league who was the first to come out publicly. We all know of Michael Sam, the college football standout who is eligible for the NFL draft; and Robbie Rogers, the soccer player who became the first out-gay member of a U.S. pro sports team. But before them, there was Sheryl Swoopes.

After the WNBA star came out in 2005, EDGE published a story about how her announcement was met with a welcome "shrug of indifference." The writer pointedly contrasted the equanimity with which Swoopes’ teammates, league and the wider world greet revelation to gay men, still "buried deep in the pro sports closet."

Swoopes was the highest-profile athlete to have come out publicly since tennis legend Martina Navratilova, in the United States, that is. As EDGE reported, two Englishmen - Gareth Thomas, a rugby star player, and Steven Davies, a cricket pro - both emerged from the closet in 2011.

Then again, England has been far ahead of the U.S. on this issue for some time. EDGE’s Jason St. Amand reported on the efforts of British soccer star Joey Barton’s efforts to end homophobia in his own sport.

In 2007, Mike Penner, a veteran sports columnist for the L.A. Times and prominent sports writer, made history when he came out as trangendered. "It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words," Penner wrote . (Four years later, a sports writer for the conservative daily the Boston Herald, Steve Buckley, came out as gay.)

"It’s incredibly bold and far more courageous than anything I could have done," Jon Amaechi said of Penner, then 49 and married to a woman. (Amaechi, a former NBA player, is one of the pro players who only came out after retirement.)

There was more progress behind the scenes when Laura Ricketts, a lesbian activist, acquired the Chicago Cubs 2010. As EDGE’s Kilian Melloy reported , long-suffering Cubs fans were more concerned about the prospects of the team, the aging stadium and the coaching staff.

Among the players themselves, however, homophobia continued to run rampant. As Melloy reported In a 2011 story on NHL star Sean Avery, the New York Times noted that "homosexual slurs remain in use to insult opponents and officials." Avery was pilloried for supporting marriage equality. After Avery made a video supporting marriage equality in New York State, the head of one of Canada’s biggest hockey sports agencies called the New York Ranger’s stance "very sad." His son compared gay marriage to a man and a horse.

More optimistically, Melloy reported that the ultra-macho NHL had actually become the most enlightened major North American pro sports league in championing LGBT rights.

Things were changing in other leagues as well. When Larry Johnson was fired from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 for using a gay slur, it was only one among many infractions, but it was prominently noted in stories about his firing. As reported here, Johnson insulted his fans, his coach and repeated the slur the next day to reporters.

By last year, even invoking religious reasons for not supporting LGBT rights had become anathema, even for the executives of Fox News. Fox Sports Southwest, a division of Fox News, fired a commentator for criticizing an opponent during an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate because he had attended a Gay Pride parade while he was mayor of Dallas. After Fox Sports Southwest fired Craig James, there was an outpouring of support from right wingers, and James painted himself as a Christian martyr. But it wasn’t enough to reinstate him.

By 2011, the world of pro sports seemed to be on its way toward a broad acceptance of LGBT rights. The most notable example of the sea change was former virulently anti-gay sports star Tim Hardaway. "In 2007, Tim Hardaway, an NBA star who played with the Heat, responded to news of a fellow hoops star coming out as gay with vitriol, saying that he hated gays, reported Melloy.

Now, however, Hardaway was going to bat for three officials of a Texas city who fought for domestic-partnership benefits. Hardaway’s road to Damascus conversion happened after he sought counseling after condemning homosexuality and saying LGBT Americans didn’t deserve to exist. In defending the officials, Hardaway compared the struggle for LGBT rights to the Civil Rights movement.

That same year, the Seattle Mariners made a video for the "It Gets Better" project. They joined several other teams, such as the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Rex Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Minnesota Twins, the Washington Nationals the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles.

"We are hearing about too many LGBT teens who feel hopeless and alone," said Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm, two of whose players also appeared in the video. As EDGE reported, the message had particular resonance for Eric Williams, an Iraq War veteran, who started petitions on asking the teams to make "It Gets Better" videos.

By October of 2012, every single major pro sports team "went purple" for Spirit Day, the annual anti-bullying even sponsored by GLAAD.

On April 30, 2013, a story appeared on EDGE that was headlined "Men’s pro spots finally joins gay-rights trend." The story referenced Jason Collins, the NBA free agent who had come out. But the writer couldn’t have anticipated what would happen nine months later, when Michael Sam came out.

Unlike Collins, Sam is at the very beginning of his pro career. The college all-star had been expected to be a third-round draft pick. Some team managers anonymously said they wouldn’t want him because other players would be uncomfortable. But the NFL itself rushed to praise Sam, as did President Obama.

When - not if - Sam joins an NFL team, it would seem to be the final step in a long journey that unfolded on this website.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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