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 crunch time for Winnipeg FC…no witness protection program for Matt Nichols…Johnny Meh-ziel and Glen Suitor’s groupie-like gushing…the Puck Pontiff speaks…numbers crunching at the Drab Slab…Son of Cement Head…Tyrannosaurus Kipper stuck in the 1970s…lesbians in the owners suite of baseball…and other things on my mind

A smorgasbord on the first Sunday in autumn

And, so, the serious heave-ho of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ crusade is about to commence, and not much of what transpired on Friday night is apt to convince many among the rabble that their football heroes are up for the task.

More to the point, the fourth-quarter iffiness of the Bombers’ 31-14 victory over the inept Montreal Alouettes at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry perhaps confirms that this will not be the year the local lads win the final three-down game in November for the first time since Bill Norrie wore the chain of office at City Hall in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, these were the now 3-10 Alouettes with their now 0-3, all hat-no cattle quarterback and his unearned sense of entitlement.

The Als are Charlie Brown in shoulder pads. Their night normally ends with an oomph and a thud as Lucy yanks the ball away yet again. Three months ago, the Bombers whupped the lowly Larks by 46 points. With a QB as green as St. Patty’s Day. So defeat at the mitts of these Sad Sacks was not an option Friday. Yet the end result remained in question until Marcus Sayles plucked an ill-thrown Johnny Manziel pass a minute and 57 ticks from time, thus halting a four-game skid that had taken Winnipeg FC to the bottom of the Canadian Football League’s West Division mosh pit.

The Bombers remain there today, because the B.C. Lions are proving to be an unco-operative bunch, even as they function without their starting quarterback. (The Leos found a rabbit in a hat on Saturday night, beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in overtime and, at 6-6, have played one game less than 6-7 Winnipeg.)

The sketchiness of the Bombers’ latest skirmish is unnerving if you count yourself among the faithful who do not wear rose-tinted glasses. That is, Winnipeg FC was tooth-and-toenail to best the lowly Larks, so what horrors await them with the Edmonton Eskimos (twice), Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Bytown RedBlacks lying in wait to close out the crusade?

As I said at the top, the serious heave-ho is at hand, and the Bombers will require better play and coaching if they’re to wrestle third place or a crossover playoff spot from the Lions or Eskimos.

Buckle up, kids.

Matt Nichols

Okay, that was the jar-half-full take on the events of Friday night. The positive? Matt Nichols won’t be entering a witness protection program this week. The Bombers starting quarterback played a mistake-free, boo-free game. When I say mistake-free, I mean major gaffes that go the other way for six points. None of us knows where Nichols’ head has been the past few weeks, but I’m guessing he could see his pancreas from there. Nothing but brain farts. He kept his wits about him vs. les Larks, though, and that ought to silence the blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about changing QBs for a few days.

TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, J. Manziel, wasn’t awful vs. the Bombers. He was Johnny Meh-ziel. Fact is, he’s done nothing extraordinary in his three starts, unless you consider four interceptions in one half special. He has yet to win a game. He has yet to hurl a touchdown pass. He has yet to score a TD. Still, Glen Suitor and others at TSN talk as if he’s turned the water he walks on into wine. Manziel’s apologists are swift to point accusing fingers at the Larks woeful offensive line and receivers who couldn’t catch a cold standing naked in a meat cooler. Well, if Johnny Meh is as mobile as they say, he wouldn’t have been sacked five times Friday (a sixth was overturned by penalty), and every QB in the CFL has pass-catchers who drop the football. Fact is, Antonio Pipkin had better numbers than Manziel in three of his four starts.

Glen Suitor: Gush, gush, gush.

Just wondering: Did Suitor ask Manziel for a date after the game? Seriously. It’s quite clear that Suitor has replaced Kate Beirness as the No. 1 groupie in TSN’s Cult of Johnny, and his game-long gushing about the Als quarterback was totally teeny-bopper stuff. And kind of creepy. Early in the skirmish, after Johnny Meh had scrambled for a first down, Suitor gasped, “There’s the magic!” It was as if Johnny Rotten was the first QB to ever escape a pass rush. Suitor also made an asinine comparison between Manziel and Doug Flutie. I don’t know if Suitor reviews his work, but he should be embarrassed by his celebrity-crush natterings on Friday.

I keep hearing that Manziel sells tickets. Ya, and I’ll be selling acorns to squirrels this month. The Bombers and Als performed in front of the smallest audience of 2018 at Football Follies Field, with only 24,349 in the pews. Compare that to the 25,931 head count when the Johnny Rotten-less Als visited last season, and it’s a dip of 1,582 customers. Mind you, the Bombers aren’t much of a sell this year. Through seven home dates, the body count is down 6,981.

I’m sorry, but every time I see a guy wearing a Manziel jersey, I see someone who supports a man who beat up a woman. And when I see a woman with that guy, I wonder about her. Like, why would she keep company with someone who supports a man who beat up a woman? Seems to me that would be a deal breaker. Just saying.

Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton will be a marshal for this year’s Grey Cup parade in E-Town. I’ve often wondered what a parade marshal does. Other than sit in a car and wave, that is. Whatever his duties, I’m sure Large will be a boffo parade marshal.

Mark Chipman

Well, this is interesting: Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman talks to local news snoops on the record about as often as it snows in August, yet he found time for a recent chin-wag with Calgary scribe Eric Francis. Nothing the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll told Francis was enlightening, but the fact he granted an out-of-towner an audience says something. I don’t know if it says Chipman has a low regard for jock journos in River City, or if they’d rather not talk to him, but I strongly suspect it’s the former.

So now we know why the Winnipeg Free Press dumped Scott Campbell as its freelance columnist on all things Jets—to make room for Andrew Berkshire. And that means advanced stats, charts and graphics up the ying-yang. Spare me. I mean, my eyes glaze over when I attempt to read a Murat Ates offering in The Athletic. He crunches more numbers than a nerdy kid with a slide rule. So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass on Berkshire in the Drab Slab. I don’t want to make my brain hurt and my eyes bleed any more than necessary. But I wish him well.

Max Domi

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Max (Son of Cement Head) Domi of the Montreal Canadiens shakes the hockey glove off his right hand, he forms a fist with that hand, he punches Florida Panthers defender Aaron Ekblad flush on the nose, then says, “By no means did I want to hurt him. Obviously, I was not trying to hurt him.” In whose universe are you not trying to wound someone when you punch him in the beak? Talk about a slab of concrete not falling far from the cement mixer.

The National Hockey League suspended Domi for the remainder of the Habs pre-season exercises. Is that supposed to be punishment or a reward?

Nick Kyrpeos

If Domi acting like a cement head doesn’t take the prize for stupidity, surely Nick Kypeos’s take on the incident does. Speaking on 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna, Tyrannosaurus Kipper basically blamed the victim, saying Ekblad chose “not to protect himself.” Wrong. Ekblad chose not to fight. Someone at Sportsnet ought to inform Kypreos that it’s safe to leave the 1970s behind.

There’s only one way to describe the new look on the Sportsnet website: Dog’s breakfast.

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss

Well, I now have a reason to once again root, root, root for the Los Angeles Dodgers: Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss have become minority owners. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s now three lesbians in the owners suite of Major League Baseball, the other being Laura Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs.

And, finally, Tiger Woods won a golf tournament Sunday afternoon. Who knew that to be possible? Not me.

About Marko Dano moving to Glitter Gulch…silence from the Winnipeg Jets…no whining from the Pittsburgh Penguins…Mike O’Shea calling Drew Willy to have him come back…empty seats in the Republic of Tranna…best CFL coach ever…lack of star power in golf…and gays in pro sports board rooms but not in dressing rooms

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

So, Marko Dano’s new mailing address might be Glitter Gulch, and this is a problem for the Winnipeg Jets how?

Seriously, all the teeth-gnashing and angst about which player the Vegas Golden Knights plan to pluck from a Jets roster not good enough to qualify for the recently concluded Stanley Cup tournament is so much ado about nil.

Marko Dano

Does anyone truly believe that the local hockey heroes can’t get along without Marko Dano? Or Michael Hutchinson? Or any of the lads available to Vegas in the National Hockey League expansion draft?

Exposing Dano to the whims of the new kid on the block is not a deal-breaker. If his name is called when the players selected by Vegas are revealed on Wednesday, it will have zero impact on the Jets. Zero. They missed the postseason with Dano, they can miss it without Dano.

Having said that, I don’t get the Jets’ infatuation with Andrew Copp. I see him as a fringe NHLer. A fourth-line forward who shouldn’t get more than 10 minutes of ice a night. If it was a choice to protect Copp or Dano from the Vegas vultures, I’m keeping the latter.

The Dallas Stars need a goaltender, they get one. The Carolina Hurricanes need a goaltender, they get one. The Calgary Flames need a goaltender, they get one. The Montreal Canadiens need scoring, they get some. The Golden Knights need draft picks, they’re collecting them like a squirrel stashing away acorns. The Jets need…well, apparently nothing. Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, will lay claim to a whack of freshly scrubbed teenagers later this month at the NHL entry draft, then hit the snooze button for the rest of the summer (except perhaps to gift Chris Thorburn with a fresh three-year contract).

It’s about Paul Maurice. Remember all that “oh, woe are we” whining about the schedule we heard from the Jets head coach when his outfit was required to play 32 games in 60 days at the start of the 2016-17 crusade? Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins just played 25 games in 61 days. I think we can agree that playoff hockey is a different animal than shinny in October, November and December. It’s much more intense, demanding, draining and flat-out brutal. It’s sort of like dog years, but not quite. That is, I’d say one playoff game is equal to three regular-season assignments, so the Penguins actually played 75 games in 60 days en route to their second successive Stanley Cup title. Yet not once did I hear their head coach, Mike Sullivan, sniveling about the schedule.

Drew Willy

What does Marc Trestman know about quarterbacks that Mike O’Shea doesn’t. Plenty apparently. I mean, it took O’Shea two complete Canadian Football League seasons and five games into a third crusade to realize Drew Willy wasn’t the answer at quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It took Marc Trestman less than one half of one exhibition game to arrive at the same conclusion for his Toronto Argonauts, thus he pink-slipped the former Bombers starting QB on Saturday. You don’t suppose O’Shea has already placed a call to Willy’s agent, do you? Talk about a frightening prospect.

Donald Trump will stop using Twitter before I part with money to watch exhibition football, and it seems that 99.9999 per cent of folks in the Republic of Tranna are of a similar mindset. The announced head count for the Argos’ one dress rehearsal at BMO Field was 5,532. I once saw that many clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle at the Shrine Circus when I was a kid.

I’ve heard and read a lot of “Don Matthews is the greatest head coach in Canadian Football League history” since the Coach of Many Teams died last week. Well, I beg to differ. I mean, what’s the measuring stick? Total victories? Wally Buono beats him. Winning percentage? Hugh Campbell, John Hufnagel, Marc Trestman, Bud Grant, Ralph Sazio and Buono beat him. CFL titles? Campbell, Buono and Frank Clair have as many, and Campbell did it in six seasons compared to Matthews’ 22. The best head coach ever? I’ll take Hugh Campbell or Bud Grant over The Don any time.

Once upon a time—and not so long ago—the first question you’d ask during one of golf’s major tournaments was “What did Tiger shoot?” and you’d expect to hear that Tiger Woods was at, or very near, the top of the leaderboard. The second question would be “What about Phil?” and you’d likely be told that Phil Mickelson was in striking distance of the lead. Those two were the heartbeat of the men’s pro tour. They were the latter-day version of Arnie and Jack. Now? The men’s tour is a mosh pit, with an assortment of players alternating as flavor of the month. It was Rory McIlroy, then Jordan Spieth, then Jason Day, then Dustin Johnson. Trouble is, there isn’t a swashbuckler among them. None has polarizing or riveting appeal. I wouldn’t say the PGA Tour has become a bore, but it ceased being must-see TV about the same time Woods got caught with his pants down and drove his car into a tree.

Quiz me this, kids: Why was the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s a good thing and the Golden State Warriors’ dominance the past few years a bad thing for the National Basketball Association?

Laura Ricketts

The president and chief operating officer of the NBA-champion Warriors, Rick Welts, is openly gay. One of the co-owners and a board member of Major League Baseball’s reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts, is an out lesbian. Two openly gay people in power positions with championship teams and yet gay players are still afraid to come out of hiding. I’d say that tells us all we need to know about the 1950s culture that still exists in the dressing rooms of the top four major sports leagues in North America.

I sometimes subscribe to the old bromide that our mothers often delivered: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather dust-up.

Add 3-on-3 hoops to Steve Simmons’ growing list of sports he doesn’t fancy. The Postmedia scribe writes this: “Coming to the next Summer Olympics. Three on three basketball. Honest. With a 12-second shot clock. Games are 10 minutes in length or end when the first team has 21 points. Somebody out there in Olympic land—or many IOC members—have lost their minds.” So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons wants 3-on-3 hoops, trampoline and women’s hockey eliminated from the Olympics. And he wants the best tennis players in the world to cease participating in mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. The reality that the Summer Olympics now will include mixed relays in athletics and swimming, as well as mixed competition in triathlon, table tennis, judo and archery must keep him awake at night. I mean, the poor sap might have to write about a female ping pong player if a Canadian does well.

I note that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps plans to race against a great white shark. Man vs. animal is nothing new, though. Jesse Owens raced thoroughbred horses. Former National Football League receiver Dennis Northcutt raced an ostrich. NFLers Chris Johnson and Devin Hester raced a cheetah. And, of course, numerous men fought Mike Tyson.

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.