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 the mother of all bad schedules…look who’s climbing the NHL’s all-time loser list…adios to Cam Cole…a Penny for your thoughts…dumb debates…the golden age of nothing…and fun sports writing

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

You want to talk about a tough schedule, kids (we all know Paul Maurice does)?

Well, let me tell you about the mother of all tough schedules. Then I don’t want to hear another word about what the Winnipeg Jets have endured in the first two-plus months of their current National Hockey League crusade.

shoe
A horrible schedule didn’t prevent captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg and the Winnipeg Jets from parading around the Winnipeg Arena with the World Avco Trophy.

Here’s the deal…

Beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Feb. 27 in the final World Hockey Association season (1978-79), the Jets played 30 games (17 road, 13 home). Do the math. That’s 30 assignments in 58 nights. At one point, they played five games in six nights (3-2) and eight games in 10 nights (4-4). Overall, they went 14-14-2. I don’t recall anyone bitching about the grind and unfairness of the schedule. We just spoke to its quirkiness.

During a wacky stretch in February, for example, we were in Cincinnati long enough to qualify as registered voters in the Ohio primaries. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:

Feb. 8: arrive Cincinnati
Feb. 9: play Cincinnati Stingers
Feb. 10: leave Cincinnati, play at New England Whalers
Feb. 11-13: return to Cincinnati; practice in Cincinnati
Feb. 14: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 15: leave Cincinnati
Feb. 16: play at Birmingham Bulls; return to Cincinnati
Feb. 17: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 18: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 19: return to Cincinnati
Feb. 20: play at Cincinnati
Feb. 21: leave Cincinnati, play at home vs. New England
Feb. 22: fly to Birmingham
Feb. 23: play Birmingham Bulls
Feb. 24: fly to New England
Feb. 25: play New England
Feb. 26: fly home.

We spent more time in Cincinnati than Venus Flytrap and Dr. Johnny Fever (Google WKRP in Cincinnati, kids; it was a terrific sitcom). Our home base had become the Cincinnati Marriott. A couple of times, we weren’t required to pack our bags and check out of the hotel because we would be back in less than 24 hours.

Maybe we should all just have our mail delivered to us at the hotel,” silky-smooth centre Peter Sullivan quipped one day.

Some of us could recite the Marriott restaurant menu from memory.

By way of comparison, here’s how often, or seldom, the six WHA outfits played during that Jan. 1-Feb. 27 time frame:

mother-of-all-schedules

 

 

 

 

The Jets were so tuckered out from their 30-games-in-58-nights grind that they only managed to go 19-10 the rest of the way, finishing 11-8 down the regular-season stretch then 8-2 in the playoffs to win the final WHA title. That’s why I refuse to listen to any more whining about the current Jets’ tough schedule. I don’t want to hear it from Maurice, his players, his parrots in mainstream media, or fans. I’ve witnessed worse and saw it conclude with the best result possible.

Paul Maurice: Soon he'll be No. 3 on the NHL's all-time loser list.
Paul Maurice: Soon he’ll be No. 3 on the NHL’s all-time loser list.

I’m not into fancy stats. I like my stats like my life: simple. Thus, I look at the numbers in the W and L columns and they tell me all I need to know about a head coach. And here’s what they tell me about Paul Maurice: He has the second-worst won-lost percentage of all active NHL head coaches who have been on the job more than a month and, by the close of business next spring, the Jets bench boss will be the third-losingest head coach in the history of the NHL. At present, he has 550 career losses. Another 12 and he’ll pass Ron Wilson to slide into the No. 3 slot. That, mind you, puts him in mighty fine company, because the only two men ahead of him on the loser list will be Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour, both Hockey Hall of Famers. The difference, of course, is that Bowman and Arbour are also Nos. 1 and 3 on the all-time win list and they’ve coached nine and four Stanley Cup champions, respectively.

I was sold on Maurice when he worked wonders with the Jets in his first full whirl behind the bench. He got them into the Stanley Cup tournament. Two seasons later, he no longer is working wonders. Some, in fact, wonder how he’s still working. Worth considering is this: A number of the Jets young players will improve as they mature, but Maurice won’t ever be a better coach than he is today. If the head coach can’t grow with his players, when is the right time to dismiss him?

The best of jock journalism in Canada is no more. Cam Cole of Postmedia has arrived at trail’s end, after 41 years as a jock sniffer. Cam was never a ranter and raver like, say, his Postmedia colleague Steve Simmons, who believes he who squawks the loudest rules the day. Cam, a very nice man, most always wrote in reasoned, measured tones with a subtle wit, and he had a heck of a ride, showing up in time to write about both the Edmonton Eskimos and Edmonton Oilers dynasties. Cam’s retirement means the torch as our nation’s top jock columnist is passed to Bruce Arthur, who’s very socially conscious and actually injects humor into his scribblings for the Toronto Star.

The boys and girls in the toy departments of the land got it right in their salute to kid swimmer Penny Oleksiak as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. She struck gold in the pool at the Rio Summer Olympic Games and twice at the recent world short course championships. It was a no-brainer. I did, however, find it odd that Andre De Grasse was part of the Lou Marsh Trophy discussion. Yes, I realize his bromance with Usain Bolt in Rio was a warm-and-fuzzy Olympic storyline, but De Grasse never won a race. He finished second or third. Shouldn’t you actually have to win something before you warrant consideration as the True North’s top jock? There should have been just three athletes in that conversation: Oleksiak, hockey player Sidney Crosby and golfer Brooke Henderson.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

I don’t know about you, but I find the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine debate kind of silly. Go ahead and discuss which of the two is enjoying the better freshman season if you like, but to engage in a verbal to-and-fro over who will have the better NHL career is foolish in the extreme. Discuss that amongst yourselves when Matthews and Puck Finn have some mileage behind them. Like, in about 15 years.

Once again, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail has referred to this as the “golden age” of Canadian tennis and, once again, he has failed to explain himself. Yes, Milos Raonic is the world No. 3 on the men’s side, but he went another year without winning a tournament of significance. Genie Bouchard, meanwhile, has fallen off the grid. So, our premier men’s player can’t win the big match and our top female player can’t find her game. That’s what passes for a “golden age?”

Really enjoyed old friend Paul Friesen’s piece on the fictional Bud’s Diner in the Winnipeg Sun last week. It’s a nice, lighthearted piece that, although some might find hokey, shows imagination, creativity and a sense of humor, something that’s lacking in jock journalism. I was also pleased to see the return of my favorite Grumpets—Paul Wiecek and Steve Lyons—to the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages. Their Say What?! print chin-wag is light, breezy and often self-deprecating, with an appropriate amount of bite.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About female footballers…pants on fire…gay medal winners…body shaming…Caster Semenya and creepy tweets…and other Olympic things on my mind

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

I love our soccer team, distaff division. Those women have a remarkable ability to make tap water taste like wine. Good wine. $150-a-bottle wine. They did it in England in 2012. And they did it again in Brazil on Friday. Bronze-medal bookends.

Bronze is beautiful for Canad's female soccer side.
Bronze is beautiful for Canad’s female soccer side.

Except those Summer Olympic Games trinkets they’re bringing home to the True North have the glitter of gold, rather than the blandness of bronze.

Some of the faces changed in the four years between the two crusades, but the ingredients that we like to think define us as Canadians remained intact. We are modest and passive by nature yet fierce when suitably aroused. Forever the underdog, except on the frozen ponds of the globe, our successes oft are the product of a strong-willed, bulldog-determined mindset.

And so it is with our female footballers. Ranked 10th in the world, they beat three of the top five and four of the top eight nations—Germany (2), France (3), Australia (5) and Brazil (8). Zimbabwe (93) was another casualty. The sole setback came in a semifinal match, at the boots of the German side that carried on to strike gold. Our girls soothed that wound with their energetic, 2-1 success over a Brazilian outfit that perhaps was not properly engaged at the outset but warmed to the task in plenty of time to provide the bronze-medal match with an edge-of-your-seat climax.

It is easy to admire the Canadian women. Diana Matheson is my favorite, a 5-feet-0 burst of energy. Ashley Lawrence is electric and adventurous. Christine Sinclair, the captain, has a regal bearing and carriage.

Unfortunately, they now will disappear from our sight lines until 2020, because that’s the nature of the beast for female summer sports and the media. The Fourth Estate takes note of, and celebrates, their good deeds every four years, then largely ignores them between the lighting of the Olympic torch.

I must say that I enjoyed the bluntness of soccer color commentator Clare Rustad, a former member of our national side. Rustad was very unforgiving in the matter of swan diving and particularly harsh in citing numerous German players for embellishment. And she was correct in her indictments. In the semifinal, I hadn’t seen that many Germans hit the deck since I last watched Battle of the Bulge. Germany was full value for its 2-nil victory, but also gets the gold medal for bad acting.

Liar, liar Ryan Lochte.
Liar, liar Ryan Lochte.

Liar, liar Ryan Lochte’s speedos were on fire, but the gold standard for Ugly American was established by Hope Solo, not Lochte and three of his swimming pals who got all liquored up, vandalized a gas station and flat-out fibbed about their drunken, frat-boy hijinks. I assume Solo, keeper with the U.S. women’s soccer side, was sober when she branded the Swedish 11 as a “bunch of cowards” after they’d eliminated the Americans in a shootout. Lochte apologized. Solo hasn’t been heard from since. Which, come to think of it, is probably a good thing.

According to Outsports.com, there were 53 openly gay or bisexual athletes at the Brazil Olympics and 25 won medals—10 gold, 11 silver and four bronze. Among teams with LGB athletes collecting medals were the Canadian and Swedish women’s soccer sides, the U.S. women’s basketball outfit and Great Britain and Netherlands women’s field hockey collectives. So perhaps the homophobes can tell us one more time how a team cannot win with openly gay players on the roster. Or does that bogus theory only apply to men’s team sports? By the way, the breakdown of those 25 LGB medalists by gender is three gay men, 22 lesbians.

The gold for body shaming goes to Rosie DiManno, the Toronto Star columnist who, in an A-to-Z of the Games piece, described Ethiopian swimmer Robel Kiros Habte as “rather paunchy for an athlete—beer gut midriff spilling over his swimsuit.” Had a male scribe written a similarly stinging critique about the physical appearance of a female athlete he’d have been drawn and quartered. Rosie, in fact, would be among the first to call the cad a chauvinist troglodyte.

Someone must have piddled in Ramblin’ Rosie’s Corn Flakes, because she didn’t stop at body shaming in her Games wrapup column. DiManno also whinged about “the snarky commentariat ‘colleagues’ not here, who sniped at reporters’ work from the comfort of their TV sofa.” Oh, the poor dear. Is someone not treating her and her overworked, underfed colleagues like the sacred cows they believe themselves to be? Get over yourself, Rosie. If you make a living critiquing every mother’s son and daughter, you and your kind are fair game.

Caster Semenya: What is it about her that Steve Simmons would like us to discuss?
Caster Semenya: What is it about her that Steve Simmons would like us to discuss?

Tackiest tweet during the Olympics was delivered by Steve Simmons of Postmedia. He wrote: “Caster Semenya is easily through to the 800 finals. Talk amongst yourselves.” What would you have us discuss, Steve? Her incredible athlete skills? Or is it her appearance you would have us talk about? Or maybe her voice? Or her hyperandrogenism? I have a better idea for Simmons: He can give us his opinion on all of the above, then we’ll have a discussion. Except he won’t go there. Doesn’t have the gonads. He’d rather hide behind a cryptic, creepy tweet. I can only take that to mean he silently believes that Semenya, the gold-medal winner from South Africa, is too manly to be running with the real girls. Sad.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.