Athletes supporting and slurring gays

Recently, an unlikely topic has emerged in the world of sports.  No, not the usual talk of lawyers, judges, appeals and hearings associated with the NFL lockout.  Instead, a number of recent stories pertaining to gays and sports have hit the headlines, bringing to light a debate that has been going on in society recently.

The first sports-related story with a gay theme was a negative one.  During a game against the San Antonio Spurs on April 12, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant yelled an anti-gay slur at referee Bennie Adams.  Bryant later released a statement stating that this did not reflect his opinions and “should not be taking literally.” However, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) was not amused, nor was NBA Commissioner David Stern (who later hit Bryant with a $100,000 fine).

On May 7, outspoken New York Rangers forward Sean Avery told the New York Times that he recorded a 30-second video in support of same-sex marriage in New York.   Avery was later criticized for his stance by the likes of hockey agent Todd Reynolds, but had another high-profile athlete joined his camp when Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash recorded his own video supporting legalizing gay marriage in New York.

The Suns also made news on May 15, when team president and chief executive Rick Welts broke his silence and announced that he is gay.  He is the highest-profile sports executive to do so to-date.  Welts did this not only for his sake, but to also be a mentor of sorts to other gay people who want to pursue a career in sports.

And then it all came back full-circle again on Sunday when Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah cursed at a heckling “fan” and used – yep, you guessed it – a homophobic slur during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat.  Noah was later fined $50,000 by the league.

It is sometimes said that sports it a microcosm of society, and this “hot button” issue may be a perfect example of that.  People have passionate opinions on both sides of this issue, and I’m not here to judge either.  But I’m here to cover the sports angle, and I feel that in the predominantly-male dominated world of professional sports, don’t expect tolerance to come overnight.  This isn’t the WNBA we’re talking about here.

Last month, my daughter and I were watching an Angels-White Sox game on TV with some friends.  We noticed that all the players were wearing uniform number 42 in honor of the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in MLB.  My daughter asked me who he was, and I explained his significance.  Since she still seemed confused, my wife and I decided to get her a children’s’ biography about Robinson.  After she read it, she couldn’t believe the way Robinson and other African-American players were treated.  We later talked about how we couldn’t believe that’s how 1940’s America was, and how we’ve come a long way.

After reading the stories listed above, I’m left to wonder, “Will my kids’ kids have the same reaction someday to gay athletes?”

Enough with the serious stuff.  I look forward to getting back to writing about less-controversial issues.  You know, like the ridiculous comments that Ray Lewis made about crime going up if the NFL season is cancelled.  Thanks, Ray!  Pot, meet kettle…

Used with permission of the author.

Chris Lardieri runs the “West Coast View” column for Sports Climax. A veteran to the keyboard, Chris covered the Los Angeles Dodgers for and has written about Major League Baseball for Inside Edge, a scouting company that provides content to ESPN Insider and Yahoo Sports. Follow Chris on Twitter for more sports observations.

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