The world inches forward but our games lag behind, perpetually stuck in the dark ages when the conversation turns to equality, respect, and acceptance. Organized sports has a “gay” problem that exists because of tired attitudes and a ridiculous definition of masculinity, and every time progress seems within grasp, stupidity naturally comes along and stifles it.
Such was the case when Vikings punter Chris Kluwe profanely and commendably spoke up for Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayenbadejo’s stance on gay marriage and against the Maryland politician that had written a letter to Raven’s owner Steve Biscotti demanding that he, essentially, silence his employee. That was September 7th. On September 10th columnist Dan Savage told us about Jamie Kuntz, a college football player who had been kicked off of his team a week earlier for — depending on who you believe — either kissing his boyfriend in a nearly abandoned press box or lying to his coach about the incident.
Again, you can choose to believe the official account from Kuntz’ coach just the same as you can choose to believe in the existence of unicorns, but if you believe Kuntz and feel that he was essentially cut for being gay, well, then you know that this was the old way on full display. You know that this was a reminder that people like Ayenbadejo and Kluwe exist in the minority, because they have the guts to speak out for whats right while others hide in the shadows. Now, maybe that’s harsh, but while Ayenbadejo told the New York Times: “I’d say the majority of players are siding with me, that all people have a right to live and love and be happy,” their voices are not being heard in public, and that is where they are needed right now.
It requires very little to be brave in the dark and quiet, very little to remain anonymous or to send off a “here-here” tweet. This issue demands that people get in front of a camera and get in front of a microphone, it demands more people like Chris Kluwe and Brendan Ayenbadejo, people who will tell the truth and let it stand next to their name with pride: “equality is right and anything less is wrong.”
Why is that necessary? Why do I feel that politics needs to bleed into the realm of sports? Because sports has bled into our society, and athletes have an undeserved authority and stature in this world — as do all celebrities — and with that comes a responsibility. Jamie Kuntz needs some of that authority and stature to back him up right now, he needs advocates from that world, the world of sports.
He is surely not alone. Don’t let the silence bolster the denial, it is a statistical impossibility that there are not other gay players and right now they are seeing too few players like Kluwe and Ayenbadejo and too many players like Amare Stoudemire, Warren Sapp, Jeff Kent and countless others who feel like they can control the conversation and throw out epithets with little to no consequence. These gay athletes (and non-athletes) are shackled to their secrets by the hostile environment that others create and they are no doubt scared off by not just Kuntz’ story, but the ghost stories of the past like the sad ballad of Glenn Burke. Do you know about Burke? A speedy outfielder in the late 70s and baseball’s first semi-openly gay player. Burke got bounced out of the league with the same kind of under-the-surface bigotry that may have damned Kuntz’ career at the North Dakota State College of Science, and it seemingly wrecked his life.
Why do I bring this all up now, more than a week after Kluwe’s letter and Kuntz’ release? Because every single time a player abuses his stature and stands up for bigotry, the community and the league has a new opportunity to set a precedent and push back.
Yunel Escobar is a moderately talented shortstop with a bad reputation, a reputation that will surely grow now. You see, Escobar felt the need — for some inconceivable reason — to write what seemed to be an anti-gay slur in Spanish on his eye black for Sunday’s game.
All the appropriate statements have been made by the league and his team, the Blue Jays, and the league is reportedly “investigating” the incident. We’ll get to hear Escobar’s side of things tonight when he speaks to the press, the New York press, prior to the Jays game against the Yankees.
What his “side” entails is an interesting thing to ponder. Will there be an apology? Some kind of excuse? Is it possible that this is being overblown? We’ll have to wait to find out, but if this is what it looks like, this is an opportunity for baseball to make a crystalline statement that tells not just Escobar but others who may ponder such foolishness, that such actions will not be tolerated.
What the league cannot do here, is respond with some kind of meager financial wrist slap. When Amare Stoudemire sent out an offensive tweet he got fined $50,000. Stoudemire made approximately $18 million last season. Yuniel Escobar is working on a 2 year, $10 million contract, and it could be argued that his actions were both more concerning and more hazardous than Stoudemire’s. That isn’t me excusing Stoudemire’s hate speech, but it was said, or rather typed in anger. Escobar’s statement appears to be pre-meditated, and his decision to literally wear it on his face, with seeming pride, represents hubris, a recklessness, and a lack of sense that baseball and the Jays cannot ignore.
Yunel Escobar got out in front of a camera and apparently used his undeserved stature to pollute the environment with hate, now it’s time for baseball to tell us all what they think about that and what kind of climate they want their sport to represent. It’s time for Major League Baseball to both set an example and be exemplary, because one of their players surely doesn’t know how. Here’s hoping the league and their players have the guts to step out of the dark and quiet.
What do you think? Should athletes feel obligated to stand up for equality? What should baseball do with Escobar? Let us know in the comments!
UPDATE: Escobar has reportedly been suspended for 3 games. In my view this is far from the serious response I had hoped for. Once upon a time Major League Baseball drove Marge Schott out of the game for a series of deeply insensitive comments. While I do not think Escobar deserves such a penalty, I feel that ending his season would have been the kind of statement that lets players know that actions like this will bot be tolerated. The MLB dropped the ball here, plain and simple.