50 years after Stonewall, lesbian athletes make strides while gay men remain stuck at ground zero

The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.

So where are LGBT athletes today as Pride Month 2019 kicks off, half a century after the Stonewall Riots in Gotham’s Greenwich Village?

The answer, I suppose, depends on which scorecard you use.

Certainly there has been considerable advancement in the inclusion file, both on and off the playing fields of North America and, indeed, in global frolics like the Olympic Games.

Here are some of the notations you’ll find on that particular scorecard:

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

* Lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group.
* Out lesbian Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
* Golden State Warriors out gay president and chief operating officer Rick Welts was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
* Out lesbian Caroline Ouillette is assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s hockey team (she’s married to former Team U.S.A. captain Julie Chu and they have a daughter together).
* Out lesbians Jayna Hefford and Angela James have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* 56 LGBT athletes competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
* 15 LGBT athletes competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
* 16 out lesbians were on rosters at the 2015 women’s World Cup of soccer.

Abby Wambach

* The leading goal-scorer in the history of women’s international soccer, Abby Wambach, is an out lesbian.
* 7 players in the 2018 Women’s National Basketball Association all-star game were out lesbians.
* Both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League have featured transgender players—Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt—and numerous out lesbians.
* U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first out lesbian to be featured in the
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
* Rapinoe and hoops star Sue Bird became the first LGBT couple to be featured in
ESPN The Magazine body issue.

Katie Sowers

* Out lesbian Katie Sowers is an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.

That acceptance is terrific, for the LGBT collective and society as a whole.

Unfortunately, there’s a second scorecard:

* Number of out gay men in the National Hockey League:             0
* Number of out gay men in the National Football League:            0
* Number of out gay men in the National Basketball Association: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Baseball:                     0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Soccer:                        0

Cite another segment of society in which the bottom-line number in 2019 is the same as the bottom-line number in 1969. I can’t think of one.

Thus, the motion of life moves everything forward with the exception of the cultural phenomenon that is professional male team sports, an unbudging, frat-boy enterprise still stuck in the mud fifty years after all hell broke loose in and outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.

Are there gay men among the approximately 4,300 players on current NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS rosters? Here’s an easier question: Does Donald Trump tell fibs?

Gay male athletes have always existed. It’s just that 99.999999 per cent of them remained hidden in a closet, earnestly avoiding the most taboo of talking points until the final whistle had sounded on careers spent in fear of being outed as lesser-thans.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan.

Women and men with framed diplomas that indicate intellectual loft have given ponder to the curious case of the closeted male jock, and the eggheads advance numerous theories in an effort to explain the refusal to identify as gay. But, really, it isn’t a Cadbury chocolate bar mystery. It can be cataloged under the ‘fear’ file. It’s the fear of loss—loss of family/friends; loss of career; loss of income; loss of credibility; loss of status.

No male athlete wishes to be known by friend, foe or fan as a lesser-than. A Nancy boy, if you will. So he plays on, keeping his choice of romantic interests on the hush-hush.

Lesbian athletes, on the other hand, are far ahead on the social curve. They are less inclined to hide from themselves or anyone else. Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird are not thought of as lesser-thans. Ditto Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe. Billie Jean King is greatly admired. The same could be said for Martina Navratilova until she recently went off on transgender athletes. Caroline Ouillette and Julie Chu proudly post pics of their daughter on Instagram. Former hockey stars Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan do the same with their wedding photos.

When Canada’s gold medal-winning goaltender Charline Labonté came out in 2014, she provided insight to the culture of the national women’s hockey club.

“Just like everywhere else our team had gays and straights, just like we had brunettes and redheads,” she wrote in an article for the LGBT website Outsports. “Everyone on my team has known I’m gay since I can remember and I never felt degraded for it. On the contrary, my sport and my team are the two environments where I feel most comfortable. The subject of homosexuality was never taboo with us. We talk and laugh about it like everything else. I feel privileged to live and be myself in an environment like this because I know that just a few years ago this topic was never part of the conversations in the locker room.”

Lesbians in sports has become a meh issue, and it’s only when a zealot like tennis legend Margaret Court turns the air toxic with illogical, wingnut rantings about same-sex marriage destroying Easter and Christmas that people give it any consideration.

Will men ever catch up to the women? Certainly not in my lifetime.

It is a peculiar business, indeed, when the San Francisco 49ers will happily hire a lesbian to tutor pass-catchers, yet there are no gay men in the NFL to catch passes.

About Olympians who are not also-rans…passing on Johnny Manziel…shitholes and Presidents…writing in bits and pieces…angry lesbian tennis legends…and Tonya is still a thug

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Well, okay, the names aren’t sexy.

There’s no glitz and glam.

They’re more lunch pail and brown bag than champagne and caviar.

A gloomy Gus is apt to suggest that they’re scrubs on skates. That the men’s hockey tournament next month in PyeongChang, South Korea, will be the Spengler Cup dressed up as the Winter Olympic Games.

Wojtek Wolski

To that I say “no.” They’re Olympians. Our Olympians. The 25 lads selected to wear the Maple Leaf—from Rene Bourque to Wojtek Wolski—got there the hard way. They earned it, playing hither and yon in remote outposts as far removed from the National Hockey League as Minsk is from Manhattan. And I harbor zero doubt that they’ll deliver good, Canadian pluck and backbone in abundance. That might earn them a gold, silver or bronze trinket. It might not be enough. Doesn’t matter. They’re our guys. Hop on board the bandwagon. There’s plenty of room.

Pierre LeBrun gets it. Steve Simmons…(as usual) not a freaking clue.

Here’s LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto and TSN on men’s shinny rosters at the Winter Games: “We all agree the Olympics without NHL players stinks. But let’s have respect for the players selected in their place. They’re proud Canadians living out their Olympic dream.”

Here’s Postmedia’s Simmons after the U.S. declared its roster: Those named to the team are “also rans.” Read: Bottom feeders. Which means he also believes the Canadians are bottom feeders.

Brian Gionta

Rather than insult the American Olympians, the rude Simmons might have done some research. He’d have discovered that at least 18 of Uncle Sam’s reps are champions at the NHL, NCAA, American Hockey League, Major Junior or European professional level. Which disqualifies them as “also rans.” (Sourpuss Steve might want to invest in a dictionary.)

Check it out:

Mark Arcobello: Champion with SC Bern of Swiss National League and champion with Yale University in 2009;
Chad Billins: Calder Cup (AHL) champion with Grand Rapids Griffins; Johnathon Blum: Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion with Vancouver Giants;
Will Borgen: NCHC champion with St. Cloud State University;
Chris Bourque: Three-time Calder Cup champion and Deutschland Cup champion;
Bobby Butler: Calder Cup champion;
Matt Gilroy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian Gionta: Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey Devils and NCAA champion with Boston College;
Ryan Gunderson: Swedish Hockey League champion with Brynas IF;
Chad Kolarik: Two-time CCHA champion with University of Michigan; David Leggio: ECAC champion with Clarkson University and SM-Liiga champion with TPS;
Broc Little: ECAC champion with Yale;
John McCarthy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian O’Neill: ECAC champion with Yale;
Bobby Sanguinetti: Swiss Cup champion with EHC Kloten;
Ryan Stoa: WCHA champion with University of Minnesota;
Troy Terry: NCAA champion with University of Denver;
Noah Welch: SHL champion with Vaxjo Lakers HC; two-time ECAC champion with Harvard.

Johnny Manziel

Good reads: 1) Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star on Nigerian born and raised Masai Ujiri, general manager of the Tranna Raptors; 2) Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail on a ticking time bomb named Johnny Manziel. No one in Canadian sports writing gets to the heart of a social issue quite like Arthur, while Kelly’s crystal ball has him convinced that Manziel is destined to become a Grade A pain in the ass to whichever Canadian Football League outfit is foolish enough to recruit him.

Donnovan Bennett has a go at Manziel on the Sportsnet website, listing five reasons why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should pawn off the former Heisman Trophy winner. He makes a compelling case. Unfortunately, Bennett doesn’t list the main reason why Johnny Football ought to be persona non grata in the Hammer or any other CFL port o’ call—he beats up women. That’s where any discussion of Manziel should begin and end.

Best lip service this week: Ujiri was, understandably, unamused when U.S. President Donald Trump referenced immigrants who arrive in America from Africa’s “shithole countries.” Said the Raptors GM: “If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.”

Lias Andersson

It’s about that Swedish kid who hucked his world teenage hockey tournament silver medal into the stands after the title match in Buffalo: So Lias Andersson didn’t want to take his trinket home and stuff the thing in a box. His choice. Get off the kid’s case. I mean, why did Andersson take such a fierce paddywhacking on social media? It’s not like he’s the first athlete to get rid of a trinket. New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins legend Bryan Trottier sold two of his Stanley Cup rings. Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon sold a Stanley Cup ring. The noblest of them all, Jean Beliveau, peddled a Stanley Cup ring. So, in Andersson’s case, there’s really nothing to see there.

Best tweet about a twit this week is courtesy of veteran broadcaster Dave Hodge: “Less than a month til the Winter Olympics, or as the U-S (sic) President calls them—games involving athletes from non-shithole countries.” That made me laugh out loud and reminded me of the type of banter I used to hear in the press boxes of North America. It’s all adult humor and quite profane, of course, but press boxes were funny, funny places back in the day. I’d like to think they still are, although the humor doesn’t show up in much of the sports writing I read.

Red Smith

A while back Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press reviewed his least-read columns from 2017 and, among other things, he said “a bits column is just lazy. Pick a topic—and then write about (it) in an interesting way. It’s not that hard.”

Two things here:

1) Herb Caen wrote a “bits” column in San Francisco for 60 years. That’s a whole lot of lazy. It’s so much lazy that the Pulitzer Prize people awarded him a special honor. It’s so much lazy that there’s a walkway in Frisco named after him. The aforementioned Simmons does a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver writes a weekly bits column. Lazy. Doug Smith and Kevin McGran write regular bits columns for the Toronto Star. Lazy. Legendary Winnipeg Tribune scribe Jack Matheson penned a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Frankly, if done well, bits and dibs columns can be more enjoyable reads than a lengthy essay on a boring topic. It isn’t lazy.

2) There’s nothing easy about producing a daily sports column. It’s bloody hard. Here’s what notable New York scribe Red Smith had to say when asked if churning out a column was a chore: “Why no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.” Smith’s take on writing is a lot closer to the truth than Wiecek’s.

Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King

Noted lesbians Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova insist that they’d boycott the Australian Open if required to perform in the Margaret Court Arena.  When anti-gay preacher Court compared gays to Hitler and communism, then submitted that same-sex marriage would bring an end to Christmas and Easter in the Land of Oz, she lost considerable, if not all, cred as a voice of reason and her verbal attack on the LGBT community was repugnant for its rancor. While it’s easy for the long-retired tennis greats to say they’d boycott the AO because of Court’s hurtful words, neither King nor Navratilova has ever been a shrinking Violet, so I believe them when they say they’d skip the event. I just wish some of today’s players would do it.

By most accounts, former fancy skater Tonya Harding remains every ounce the charmless thug who spent the past 24 years as the queen of denial re her role in the mindless and chilling plot to assault fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m in no hurry to watch the movie I, Tonya, which apparently portrays Harding as a victim of life. Hey, I feel bad for anyone who’s been physically abused. Especially kids. It’s horrible and I can relate. I felt the sting of my dad’s belt buckle on my backside and the back of his hand to my head more than once. And he once put the boots put to me (literally) so hard that I piddled in my pants. But it never occurred to me to take a club to his or anyone else’s kneecaps. So let there be no pity party for Harding.

Yes, you can play, but you can also expect to hear anti-gay slurs

Superman no more.

The ‘S’ on Kevin Pillar’s chest now stands for Superslur and, although he’s been saying (mostly) the right things since saying the wrong thing, what came down this past week in Atlanta is going to stick to the Toronto Blue Jays centrefielder like scandal to Bill Cosby.

Yes, Pillar is sorry he called Braves hurler Jason Motte a “faggot” for having the bad manners to quick pitch and strike him out. The mea culpa sounded sincere, at least it did once he moved beyond the scripted and standard “This is not who I am” denial and the mind-numbingly illogical and delusional “It’s not a word I ever use. It’s something that is not even part of my vocabulary.”

Kevin Pillar

But an apology, no matter how forthright, won’t make the anti-gay slur go away any more than winning another tournament made the stigma of an insatiable sexual appetite go away for randy Tiger Woods. Let’s face it, Woods is now known as much for his messy marriage and his coven of blonde cocktail waitresses on the side as for his glory on the golf course.

I suppose that isn’t fair, because neither Pillar’s or Woods’s trespass was ground-breaking stuff. Pillar has a potty mouth. Woods screwed around. Many have been there, done that. Yet both are high-profile, professional athletes whom the rabble places on a pedestal, although I sometimes suspect that’s for no reason other than to watch them fall off. Play-for-pay jocks are expected to march to the beat of a more virtuous drum, except that simply isn’t doable. Pillar and Woods are human beings and the human is an inherently flawed species that never fails to fail.

So, as much as Pillar’s mouth could use the kind of soap-scrubbing that mom threatened us kids with whenever we sprinkled our speech with a pinch of four-letter salt, his damnable choice of words is a rude reminder that even Major League Baseball players spit when brushing their teeth. You know, just like the rest of us.

Robbie Rogers

It also speaks to a larger issue, that being openly gay men in the five major North American pro team sports.

Officially there’s one openly gay player, but the active body count is zero. A wonky ankle is keeping defender Robbie Rogers in the repair shop and unavailable to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the entirety of their 2017 Major League Soccer crusade, and any other gays in MLS, MLB, the National Hockey League, National Football League or National Basketball Association remain in hiding.

Is that in part because the word “faggot” remains the go-to slur and the mind-set of the big boys who play little boys’ games? Could be.

I mean, Pillar insists that the gay F-bomb isn’t part of his vocabulary, and perhaps that’s so at the dinner table and in social settings, but video evidence supports the notion that it’s a different matter once he steps into the batter’s box or between the foul lines. Ditto Andrew Shaw who, during a National Hockey League playoff game last spring, labelled a National Hockey League referee a “faggot.”

That’s not the type of guy I am,” Shaw was quick to assure us.

Ryan Getzlaf

Perhaps Shaw and Pillar truly aren’t that “type of guy.” And, hey, maybe Ryan Getzlaf calls all his male friends “cocksuckers,” not just an on-ice official who annoyed him during Game 4 of the Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators playoff skirmish.

It was just kind of a comment,” explained Getzlaf.

Apparently, the NHL agrees, because it withdrew $10,000 from his pay envelope but permitted the Ducks captain to play on.

Well, I’ve got news for Getzlaf and the NHL: I can think of no circumstance by which one very angry straight man calling another straight man a “cocksucker” is meant as a compliment. It isn’t “just kind of a comment.” It’s anti-gay.

But that’s the type of culture Getzlaf, Shaw and Pillar work and play in. Men’s professional team sports is misogynistic and homophobic on a ghastly level, and snuggling up to the You Can Play Project has done nothing to temper that distasteful reality. If the NHL’s relationship with You Can Play was anything more than window dressing, Getzlaf would have been given at least one game off to contemplate his wicked words.

What we heard from Getzlaf and Pillar in the past few days, and Shaw last spring, helps explain why Robbie Rogers is the only gay man in major professional team sports who isn’t hiding in a closet.

And it’s a shame he doesn’t have any company on the outside. I mean, come on, man. This is 2017, isn’t it?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.