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 Philadelphia North…what QB controversy?…the stuff hitting the fan in Bomberville…the Banjo Bowl revisited…Colin Kaepernik’s “sacrifice”…the anti-Nike slogan: Just Burn It…no C in the Republic of Tranna…political noses out of joint over Genie’s tax escape…creative broadcasting…Serena’s ugly hissy fit…and a gay guy in the hoops hall

It occurs to me

You know you aren’t teacher’s pet when you appear in a public service announcement about the evils of drinking and driving and the rabble boos.

What did Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans do after Saturday’s football game? Go to the airport and boo bad landings?

I mean, welcome to Philadelphia North, kids.

Matt Nichols

I don’t know if Matt Nichols is a drinking man, but what transpired at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Saturday afternoon might be enough to drive him to it. The guy had a bad day at the office and it’s like he kicked a Girl Guide off his front porch. After stealing her cookies.

But this is what happens when you’re the starting quarterback for the Blue Bombers and you keep throwing the football to the wrong people, which Nichols did early and often in Winnipeg FC’s latest face plant, a 32-27 loss to a Saskatchewan Roughriders outfit that failed to find the end zone on offence.

You normally win in the Canadian Football League if you limit the other guys to field goals, which the Bombers defensive dozen did in this annual renewal of the Banjo Bowl. It was a job well done.

Alas, Nichols was so inept that even his biggest booster finally noticed. That would be head coach Mike O’Shea, who’d rather pull out his back teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than pull his starting QB. This day, however, the coach had seen enough of Nichols by the time the large lads broke for recess, so he instructed him to stand on the sideline and observe while understudy Chris Streveler attempted to undo the mess he’d created.

Shortly thereafter, the drinking-and-driving PSA popped up on the big screen at Football Follies Field and down rained the boos on Nichols.

He couldn’t be less popular if he made rabbit stew out of the Easter Bunny.

But seriously. Booing a guy during a PSA for drunk driving? Get a grip, people.

Mike O’Shea

Here’s the deal: There is no quarterback controversy in the Bombers coaching bunker. Unless there’s intervention from on high (hello, Wade Miller), Nichols, not Streveler, will be behind centre when Winnipeg FC returns to the fray against the Montreal Alouttes two weeks hence.

“Matt deserves another chance to play and lead this team to victory because he’s done it so many times. Matt’s won a helluva lot of games for us,” O’Shea said, not long after watching Nichols implode with five first-half interceptions (two were nullified due to Saskatchewan infractions) that included a pair of Pick Sixes.

He also mumbled something about reviewing film and allowing the sour taste of a fourth straight misstep to disappear before making a “rash” decision because “that wouldn’t be good for anybody.”

The thing is, what’s good for O’Shea might not be good for Miller, chief cook and bottle washer with Winnipeg FC.

Wade Miller

It’s worth noting a comment a CFL coach or general manager delivered recently to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “I wouldn’t want to be around Wade Miller if the Bombers lose on Saturday. He’s a guy who loves the Bombers, wants to win a championship and when he isn’t happy everyone (bleeping) knows it. Heads are going to roll over there if things don’t change fast. Wade’s not going to put up with bull shit excuses.”

Just curious: Did Andrew Harris actually play in Saturday’s skirmish? The official stats sheet indicates the Bombers running back had 10 carries and one reception. I must have been making lunch at the time.

Old friend Troy Westwood started it all when, as the left foot of the Bombers in 2004, he called our prairie neighbors “a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds.” Thus, the Banjo Bowl was born. Seemed like good-natured, harmless banter at the time, but what about today? Well, Roughriders radio gab guy Rod Pedersen asked this on Twitter: “Are you offended by the term Banjo Bowl?”

Results: 3,451 votes;
92 per cent “No;”
8 per cent “Yes.”

Wow. Eight per cent offended by the term Banjo Bowl. Guess that shoots down the theory that everyone in Saskatchewan dances to Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys the day they marry their cousins.

I’ve always been on Colin Kaepernick’s side in the Great American Kneeling Debate, but the slogan for the 30th anniversary of Nike’s Just Do It campaign baffles me a bit: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Are they telling us Kaepernick sacrificed “everything” by taking a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games? Okay, he’s been blackballed by NFL team owners, but, according to Business Insider, the now-out-of-work quarterback collected $39.4 million on the three-year contract he signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. Overall in a short NFL career, he made in excess of $43 million. Numerous sources place his net worth at $20 million or more. He bought a New York City condo for $3.21 million in 2016. He sold his home in San Jose last year for $3.075 million. And you know Nike isn’t paying him mice nuts to be its pitch man. Try eight figures. This is not a man who sacrificed “everything” and is getting by on food stamps and whatever spare change he can collect on a Manhattan street corner.

I don’t own any Nike sports gear or clothing, so I won’t be joining the Just Burn It protest of Nike apparel for the sweat shop giant’s new ad campaign featuring Kaepernick, who’s brought more people to their knees than the Pope. But I wouldn’t put a match to it if I did. If I’m going to light something on fire, it’ll be the Blue Bombers playbook, not the Nike swoosh.

The Tranna Maple Leafs plan to enter their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade sans the letter C stitched on any player’s sweater. Officially, which is to say according to general manager Kyle Dubas, that’s because they’ve yet to determine who’s “best suited to handle” the heft that comes with wearing a patch of cloth that weighs about an ouce. Unofficially, it’s because they don’t want to put John Tavares’s nose out of joint. Ditto Auston Matthews’ beak.

Genie Bouchard

Speaking of noses out of joint, some Quebec politicos are having a proper hissy fit now that tennis diva Genie Bouchard has become an official resident of the Bahamas, where she won’t be taxed on all that money she collects for losing tennis tournaments and posing half naked in fashion mags and Sports Illustrated. “I think we should live where we were born, where we learned to play tennis and pay taxes in our country,” whinges Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec. Well, let me say this about that: I was born and learned to play tennis in Winnipeg. If it’s all the same to Mssr. Legault, I’ll stay in Victoria, which is not a haven from taxes but a haven from Winnipeg winters.

Dave Poulin

So, Blake Wheeler signs and extension with the Winnipeg Jets and TSN props up Dave Poulin to tell us what it means. Why do they insist on trotting Poulin out as a hockey expert/analyst when he was among seven people who didn’t believe Connor McDavid was the NHL’s top centre-ice man last season. The Edmonton Oilers captain was the scoring champion for cripes sake. His peers awarded him the Ted Lindsay Award as the game’s premier player. Yet Poulin saw something different. He voted McDavid off the island and listed Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin on his all-star ballot. It’s believed he also voted Mrs. Howell as the hottest babe on Gilligan’s Island, ahead of both Ginger and Mary Ann.

This from Kate Beirness of TSN on Steve Nash, inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday: “A playmaker who was more creative on the floor than anyone we had seen before.” Anyone? She would know this how? I mean, she’s 34 years old. Why do these young people insist on talking like they were there back in the day? It’s irksome. She never saw Bob Cousy. Oscar Robertson. If she saw Magic in his prime, it was from her crib or playpen. It’s fair for Beirness to talk about the traffic in her lane, but don’t talk about the traffic in my lane.

Serena Williams went all John McEnroe on chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the U.S. Open women’s final on Saturday in Gotham, and it was ugly. She was ugly. Williams turned her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka into an unhinged crusade for motherhood (“I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!”) and women’s rights. Ramos is “sexist” (also a thief for giving her two code violations and penalizing her a game). “This is not fair,” she whinged. “This has happened to me too many times. This is not fair. This is not fair. It’s not fair, it’s really not. Do you know how many other men do things, that do much worse than that? It’s just not fair.” Williams’ pity party hijacked what should have been a night of celebration for Osaka, a first-time tennis grand slam champion. Osaka was full of grace. Williams was a complete disgrace.

Rick Welts

And, finally, something you never thought you’d see: An openly gay man referencing his partner in a hoops hall of fame induction speech. That would be Rick Welts, chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors, who spoke lovingly of his partner, Todd Gage, on Friday night. It was a beautiful thing.

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.