Columns » Sports

Lines in the sand
by Roger Brigham

One athlete used words that could be seen but not heard, the other used words that could be heard but not seen. One used words as a friendly joke with a friend, the other used words angrily lashing out at an unseen caller. Both could have been used for one of those Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away?" commercials.

Chicago White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham used his feet to scratch out the message "GETZ IS GAY! GB" in the sand near second base July 4 as a joke for Kansas City Royals second baseman and former teammate Chris Getz.

Now, middle infielders have been using the dirt around second base as a giant Etch-a-Sketch to leave messages for each other for ages, and if you've ever stood around for hours on a hot sunny day as a Little Leaguer waiting for the damned ball to be hit your way and yet petrified that it actually will be hit to you, you'll understand the impulse. The creativity usually does not rise above a casual game of tic-tac-toe â€" baseball cleats are not the tool to try things like engraving the Gettysburg Address on the head of a pin â€" but it does pass the time.

But we live in a modern world in which information published on the Internet is almost instantly replicated virally through any number of social media, so whether your flub is meant as a "harmless" joke between friends or you are botching a retelling of Paul Revere's ride, word will get out and out and out as never before. And as word ripples out, repercussions ripple back.

Beckham's swift apology once the story broke in the Chicago Sun-Times did not commit the sin of so many non-apologies before it of using the word "if" over and over again, but his use of the word "obviously" three times in two sentences made it clear that a) he figured everyone would realize he sincerely wasn't trying to be offensive; and b) yeah, he would like to get away from and beyond this as quickly as possible. Someone book him on a $49 Southwest special out of cyberspace.

Caught in a bit bigger Internet shit storm of his own making was Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson, who unloaded on a radio caller with a homophobic rant that took a week to be transcribed for circulation and posted on YouTube. When a caller on a radio talk show June 30 asked Jackson if he "ever had his dick knocked in the dirt," (that is, if he was ever knocked unconscious during play) Jackson responded, "What kind of question is that? Say no homo, gay-ass faggot."

Outrageous lack of alliteration, don't you think? Jackson tweeted his apology in three messages on July 9, saying he was sorry, intolerance is unacceptable, and that his words "meant no disrespect to the gay and lesbian community."

The latest wave to break on the shoals of homophobia was Oakland A's minor league pitching prospect Ian Krol, whom the team suspended indefinitely July 10 for, according to the San Francisco Chronicle , a "comment on Twitter that included a homophobic slur and offensive language." The comment has been removed from Twitter, but as of Monday morning this week no apology has been issued. The day before Krol's suspension, pro wrestler Phillip Jack Brooks, a.k.a. CM Punk, apologized for earlier calling a spectator a "homo" in June.

String this run of faux pas together and it begs the question: What planet are the folks running elite sports living on? What Neanderthal time warp are they locked in? When will they get, for heaven's sake, a clue?

In recent weeks, LGBT athletes have been feted in high profile events by the president of the United State and the prime minister of Great Britain. This is being called the gayest LGBT sports year ever with unprecedented numbers of athletes coming out of the closet.

Yet you can't go online without a record of a homophobic taunt in sports turning up on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or a bunch of blogs. Locker room humor has always lingered around the lowest common denominator at a juvenile level that would make a grammar school kid cringe at its immaturity, and in a hypermasculine environment it has always targeted those of perceived weakness or vulnerable imperfection. As more and more targets become off limits because of increasing political correctness, more and more queerness becomes the thoughtless barb du jour .

It has been observed by others far wiser than me that straights are not bothered by homosexuality so much as they are bothered with having to think about it. Thus, with the increasing social media scrutiny of sports homophobia and the defensive backlash of criticism and the onslaught of repetitive and often half-hearted apologies, we see now yet another wave of backlash criticizing the critics for being "too sensitive." Sit down and shut up, they say; you're blocking the view and we just want to watch the game.

To which I respond: Tough. Deal with it. We are not 98-pound weaklings for you to kick sand in our face and run us off the beach.

There are so many sports-related homophobic blips on social media not because anyone is suddenly being particularly watchful, but because unacceptable behavior and language occurs all of the time in sports, and there has yet to be a responsible, discipline-wide response. It Gets Better videos are nice, but sincere introspection, real education, and training, are what is needed. Sport by sport by sport, program by program.

We're wearing cleats and we're here to stay in the game. Get with it or get out. Maybe then we'll sit down.

Rosen wins national wrestling championship

Last year, Donna Rosen made sports history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete in a sanctioned women's freestyle wrestling tournament, winning one match at the U.S. Open Women's Freestyle Wrestling Championships in Cleveland and earning a berth in the World Team Trials. (See http://tinyurl.com/664zpvf). It was her first mainstream wrestling match in 40 years.

Sunday July 10 she made her debut in beach wrestling by winning the 2011 Senior Women's U.S. Beach National Championships on the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York. Although she is better known as a transgender educator under the name Donna Rose, which she has used for the past decade, under USA Wrestling rules, she competed under her legal surname of Rosen.

"It was such a great weekend," she told the Bay Area Reporter. "This is the biggest title I have ever won. I am so excited. This is just the beginning."

Beach wrestling is a relatively new phenomenon that is more akin to sumo and Greco-Roman wrestling than it is to freestyle. Points are scored by taking opponents down or shoving them out of the ring. As Rosen, 52, was driving 900 miles from her home in South Carolina to Rochester, I talked with her on the phone about the importance of being sure not to overextend when pushing or throwing her opponent. It's a critical point because of the deceptive ease with which sand gives way under off balance footing, and Rosen had not even trained on sand before. As part of her dream to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials next year, she has been driving three hours each way to train with 2004 Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann and other elite wrestlers.

In her blog, Rosen wrote of her participation in the event.

"I know many trans people who support the notion of equal rights but stop short of being able to support competing against natal born women," she wrote. "I'm not going to argue about it â€" there are rules in my sport that cover this particular situation and I'm well within the guidelines. I've had my blood chemistry tested so I'm confident I'm good in that regard as well. But once you find yourself arguing about muscle memory or the lingering effects of growing up on testosterone or other things you find yourself in an argument that is as much emotional as logical. Those are arguments that have no winners. But as we look at the boundaries of being involved in life as men and women, and enjoying the unquestioned rights (and obligations) that come with the territory so, too, is this one of those. And so, too, are some of us going to want to participate. It's just that simple."

Rosen actually started her wrestling comeback in May 2006 in San Francisco. "The Memorial Day tournament there before the 2006 [Gay] Games in Chicago somehow started all this insanity for me again," she wrote me earlier this year, and she spoke in her blog of her undying desire to return to wrestling.

"How do you explain to someone that you do it because you enjoy it," she wrote. "Last year at this time I got (the urge) and didn't expect to compete again but here I am. Early last year I was coming off a hiatus that I never expected would end. But as with most things, passions are as hard to explain as they are to define. The main opponent in all of this is myself â€" mentally and physically â€" and in that regard I'm determined not to allow myself to stop myself. Where it leads? Who knows? I've stopped trying to rationalize this and am focused on simply doing."

Comments

Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook