17 April 2007

Progress is not a Constant

Warning: Personal views that are vaguely political about to be expressed. If that's the kind of thing you have no interest in, then move on and we'll have more strictly soccer related stuff later. Thank you.

Thanks to DuNord, I recently read the David James Guardian article where he wonders "If one in 10 people are gay, where are all the gay Premiership stars?" The fact that I read this article the same day the Washington Nationals were honoring Jackie Robinson for integrating baseball (thanks to a rain-out on Sunday) sort of made the point more immediate. In the major US team sports, there aren't any openly gay athletes. And yet, it statistically likely there are gay players in each of the sports, and probably one or two on D.C. United or any other roster in MLS.

The reason I bring this up is that one of the things I love about soccer in this country is the diversity it brings to both the field and the stands. But I can't help feeling that if an MLS player were to come out of the closet, it would not be well received. I'm not talking about Tim Hardaway-type comments on the matter. Still, my guess is that MLS executives, well-aware of the Jim Rome type meme that "Soccer is for Wusses or hooligans," would feel uncomfortable with the perception an openly gay player would bring. The slurs used against gay men along the lines that they're effeminate are the same accusations that are flung against soccer in some corners of the USA. I think that there would be a certain degree of discomfort from the suits. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'd be wrong.

Further, there's a lot of casual homophobia used by fans and supporters around the league. I love my fellow fans, but it is the one area I find most upsetting about our behavior. Even in jest, this kind of behavior is wrong. I'm sure that people that flung epithets at Jackie Robinson didn't all think of themselves as racist. "Just part of the game, trying to rattle him." Wrong then. Wrong now. But I think that's what we would see, and I include even some of my fellow DC supporters in that category.

In many ways, soccer presents such a great positive view of our society at its naive melting-pot best, so it saddens me that I can't imagine we could support diversity in sexual orientation.

There are those who will argue that it simply doesn't matter today what someone's orientation is. I wish I could agree, but given the number of hits this blog gets for "Bobby Boswell relationship status" or "Devon McTavish girlfriend" or "Steve Rammel married?" (all of which were in the past week) I can't agree. Who you're with is part of who you are. I casually drop references to my wife in this blog, and can only imagine what it would be like if I felt the need to hide my relationship in even the most casual way. People do care, as part of that strange nexus of celebrity and sports that even MLS operates in.

Not that any gay players in MLS, and I'm sure there are many like there are in all sports, read this blog, but I want to say to them: I'm sorry you feel, that life makes you feel, like you have to keep things quiet. I truly am. If any of you come out, regardless of what team you're on, I hope all of us would be supportive and not use it as an excuse to make "jokes" about another team. Just something I'm thinking about in the days after Jackie Robinson day.

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At 17 April, 2007 10:46, Anonymous DCUinCT said...

I agree with the intent and focus of the opinion. However, from a statistical or probability standpoint the overall proprotion of homosexuality in the population does not mean that it is the same for a specific sub-group. There are many reasons why gay individuals may not become athletes or may not become professional athletes. It is likely that the proportion is > 0, but there may only be a small number of gay MLS players.

Either way I don't know that MLS or any sport really needs any emphasis on anyone's sexuality. I am just as happy to cheer for a gay or straight DC player, but I don't really want to think about what they are doing after the game at home with the lights out.

But that's just me.

At 17 April, 2007 11:05, Blogger D said...

DCUinCT: You have a point, but given that we don't know it could go either way. Yes, it's possible that the population of players in MLS would not reflect the population at large, but without data we have no way of knowing. It seems like the null hypothesis would be that the populations are identical, and would take some evidence (of which there is little) to convince me otherwise.

As for the second point, I can understand where you are coming from. And if everyone (or, at least, a vast majority) felt the same as you, then I'd agree. However, given the casual heterosexuality that we see (such as with searches for "Bobby Boswell Girlfriend") we can tell that other people are, at least mildly actively, interested in players lives. It may not be that they'd object to a gay player, but they don't feel like sexual orientation is off limits in wondering about, at least when it comes to heterosexuality. And I'm just as guilty of this as anyone anytime I mention my spouse casually. It's a freedom I take for granted most days, and would find it difficult to be without.

At 17 April, 2007 11:44, Anonymous haveyouseenlucky said...

They'd get chanted at like crazy if they came out in the EPL, sad but true.

I follow Tottenham, and friends of mine who attend the games are appalled by the unbelievably racist stuff yelled by supporters at their OWN TEAM'S players. (Particularly Lee Young-Pyo) I can only imagine the crap that they'd give someone brave enough to come out.

At 17 April, 2007 11:50, Blogger D said...

Lucky: Yeah, and I think they'd be chanted at in MLS too. Which is a shame.

And nice to see a fellow Spurs fan out here. A shame that some supporters of our club would do that, especially considering Spurs history with Walter Tull.

At 17 April, 2007 11:55, Anonymous DCUinCT said...

True. The evidence of the widely cited 10% varies a lot depending on the definition used. It's probably not that high for individuals who Define themselves a gay/lesbian. Rates for the specific sub-populations of professional soccer players in the US are clearly not available (unless your offering to do the survey? ;).

There are real reasons to think that sub-populations vary (hairdressers are a stereotype for a reason), and given social developmental pressures one would expect different choices when sexuality emerges.

But I still think your points of tolerance is important even if the sample is small, just I'm not sure how this can be done in a way that doesn't overly emphasize something that is really the player's private life. If a gay player wanted to have a committment ceremony (or if a TFC player wanted to get married) then the team should note it similar to Nicks and Ben's nuptuals. But anything else would seem just a distraction, and there have been enough so far this season, at least for DC United.

At 17 April, 2007 12:37, Blogger D said...

DCUinCT: To a degree, I agree with you. I'm not saying that 10% of MLS players are gay. I'm not sure that the 10% number is for real at all, but even 5% of the population stikes me as reasonable.

And I'm not asking MLS players (or MLS, or teams) to emphasize if any of them are gay. I just feel awful they can't even casually mention it. If there was a gay player, I'd agree with you that the degree to which it is noticed should be up to the player. Equal time is fine. I'm not saying that DC United / MLS should be out to market gay players, just that I wish we lived in a world where any mention of a gay lifestyle, no matter how small, wouldn't be a problem. I think overall we're in agreement.

At 17 April, 2007 14:17, Anonymous Joanna said...

Clap clap clap clap clap.

Very well said, D.

At 17 April, 2007 15:06, Anonymous Andy said...

Given the favorable responses to this post, I'd have to believe that at least your readers would be supportive of openly homosexual players. My advice to those who are: when you hear racist or homophobic language, open your mouth and say something.

I have a feeling that a significant number of people in soccer circles are actually pro-diversity. If the majority does not approve of homophobia, then why should they let homophobia be a problem?

As far as MLS, I think it is the best place in American sports to address the gay player issue. We know the soccer haters would use it as ammunition. So be it, soccer haters are going the way of dinosaurs anyway, just like racists and homophobes. If there is a gay player who is willing to put up with the threats and negativity and come out, it could be positive publicity for the league. And hopefully it would inspire gays in other leagues to take a stand.

At 17 April, 2007 15:57, Blogger D said...

Andy: I actually have never heard a racist chant or comment by any supporter of DCU. That makes me happy, in the sense that it was one area where we are light-years ahead of the rest of the footballing world.

However, I do occasionally read or hear borderline-to-egregious homophobic comments from United supporters (and fans of all teams, to be fair) and while I've called it out on occasion, I have, to my shame, been quiet far too often. OR even tacitly approved. No one to blame but myself, but at the same time, that's why I'm calling it out. If there were to be an issue with homophobic chanting (especially if a player did out himself) I'd like to think I'd say something.

At 17 April, 2007 16:18, Anonymous haveyouseenlucky said...

Hey, thanks for directing me to learn about Tull, nice little story, and a good one to know.

At 17 April, 2007 16:35, Blogger D said...

Lucky: Glad you liked it. Walter Tull is every bit as much of a hero as others whose names are better known. His story is tragic because it was never allowed to flourish to completion, and not because of racism but because of war.

I think Northhampton has a Walter Tull memorial, and it's something I plan to visit some day.

At 17 April, 2007 16:55, Anonymous Nick said...

I don't remember you blogging about this, but I thought you might share some insight on the significance, if any, of this:


At 17 April, 2007 17:05, Blogger Sean said...

I think this is tied into the post-Zidane incident commentary. In that case, there were those that said racist slurs were out of bounds, while others argued that it was all "trying to rattle the other team."

The real question, I think, is what is in bounds and what is out of bounds for heckling in soccer. Racism, homophobia, all are out of bounds. It's mean.

Then again, I refuse to join the "F you, ref" chants for the same reason. No official deserves that. I'm sure those that chant it say it's all "part of the game," but if you're looking for a reason why soccer leagues can't get officials...

Unless we're going to say that we can only do positive chants, songs, cheers, and nothing that taunts the other teams, we need to figure out where the line is. Racism, homophobia, and the other 'isms' are a good and obvious start.

Does anyone think there's anything else that's over the line?

At 17 April, 2007 17:33, Blogger D said...

Nick: Have not blogged on it, but I did notice it. Not sure if it means anything, but I did see some new sideboard adverts for them at the KC game... If I learn that it means anything more, I'll let you know.

Sean: Yeah, I've reluctantly come to the idea that there should be a self-imposed line somewhere that is shorter than the official one (and the official one should be used for racism in accordance with FIFA laws). I'm not sure where it is. In general, I'd lean toward more expansive views, and I have little trouble with the idea of profanity, or yelling at someone because he's fat, or slow, or ugly (or all three) as a form of taunting from the stands. I think that when the taunt reveals some real social issues, that's where I get uncomfortable. I know most people standing and chanting wouldn't have a problem with "whore" (or the equivalent in another language) but the casual sexism does upset me. I think that's where I draw my own personal line. I'm not sure. Something I need to clarify for myself, certainly.

At 17 April, 2007 17:49, Anonymous David Keyes said...

In case anyone is interested: http://cultureofsoccer.com/2007/02/15/from-fashanu-to-amaechi-homophobia-in-sports/

At 17 April, 2007 19:46, Anonymous Joanna said...

I think Sean brings up an excellent point. D's response is pretty close to my own conclusion which is that we all have to come to a personal decision about what behavior we can live with in ourselves. Of course we can try to talk others 'round to a higher standard of decency too.

The casual sexism bothers me as well. It goes hand in hand with the homophobia, actually, but sexism always goes hand-in-hand with homophobia. After all, what is wrong with gay guys in the eyes of people who hate them is that they make themselves like women.

Someone posted on Goff's blog, in the Colorado matchday thread, that Colorado's cheerleaders looked like prostitutes. I actually emailed a complaint about that but I didn't get a response; I don't think the comment was removed.

Words like "pussy" or "vagina" or "girl" or the like are routinely used to insult players. All this implies that there is something supremely bad and inferior about being a woman. Yet they're very efficient and effective ways to insult men, especially men who are supposed to be part of the athlete's masculine mystique, or however you would term it. And they're very commonly used insults in this particular subculture so it takes thought and effort to work around them and find a way to throw barbs without indiscriminately hitting any woman who might happen to be present.

Then there are those who just don't care. I suggested on BigSoccer last season that maybe posters shouldn't be discussing the merits of a specific female fan's ass on the message board, because it was disrespectful not just to her but to all women who might belong to the fan clubs, or want to. I got flamed to hell and back and for several games after that I was actually afraid someone might look me up at a tailgate and try to do me physical harm - that is how angry the men got, at my telling them they shouldn't be casually sexist at us.

So it's nice to see people engaging these issues.

At 17 April, 2007 20:30, Anonymous matt w said...

Great post, and great comments. I'm all for trash talking, but slurs are a whole other matter, even from the supporters sections.

And I too have failed to do or say anything about it, just because I don't want to be a scold. But if I'm so worried about hurting the feelings of the guy in front of me screaming "faggot" every time Twellman touches the ball, what about the feelings of the gay guy across the aisle from us who has to listen to that all game?

At 17 April, 2007 20:50, Anonymous matt w said...

And I'm sorry to hear about that, Joanna. I'm sorta not surprised that's how the BS crowd would respond though. Hope at least a few people stood with you.

This is all sort of an echo of the Don Imus stuff: with our right to speak freely comes the responsibility to not engage in the sort of speech that demeans or humiliates other people. There may be no law that says someone can't taunt a little schoolgirl with racial epithets, but we all would be properly horrified if someone did. Same thing, and the "all in good fun" defense falls apart if the fun is coming at someone's expense.

At 17 April, 2007 23:16, Anonymous Joanna said...

Matt - Thanks. And yes, some did stand with me, and some others weren't sure but did listen, and I was glad for that.

It's never easy to be the one to say Stop Being A Jerk. I chicken out more often than I succeed at doing so, in my personal life, especially when it's not "my" group being dumped on - but it's good to try.

At 17 April, 2007 23:23, Blogger marc said...

this conversation brings to mind the song "Hats of to Halford" by Atom and his Package which lauds Rob Halford (the lead singer of Judas Priest) for being openly gay in the sometimes less-than-welcoming metal community. If metal can accept openly gay stars then soccer sure can!

you can listen to the song (and Rob Halford's response to it on a German radio station)

At 24 April, 2007 05:32, Blogger scaryice said...

I think the girlfriend/wife hits (which I get from time to time to) may have something to do with this site:



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