Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Michael Sam, the media and that shower question



A reporter I respect immensely called the ESPN story on Michael Sam’s shower habits as “nothing more serious than the death of journalism as we know it.”

I hope somebody can explain that to me, because I’m not sure I understand the kerfuffle that has erupted over Tuesday's report from the St. Louis Rams training camp.

Here’s what I know: For years, the fear of a gay athlete in the locker room and shower has been at the center of arguments against acceptance of a gay teammate. It is such an important issue that out former football player and executive director of the You Can Play Project Wade Davis addresses it directly when he meets with teams.

And it’s enough of a question that the noted gay sports website Outsports.com ran a full column from a gay former football player explaining why straight athletes need not be concerned about gay teammates in the shower. That ran in February.

So now we finally have the arrival of Michael Sam, who is hoping to make the St. Louis Rams roster this season and become the first openly gay player in the NFL. The team has been in training camp for about a month, long enough for both Sam and his straight teammates to get comfortable around each other.

Isn’t it appropriate for a reporter to ask how it’s going? Isn’t it worth reporting that the fear surrounding the shower issue for so many years turned out to be completely unfounded? Isn’t it a good idea to let people know it’s a non-issue in the Rams training camp as several players indicated in that ESPN report?

Are we suddenly so evolved on this issue that has roiled sports for so long that it is now verboten to even ask about it? 

If the reporter hadn’t asked the question, then Rams teammate Chris Long never would have tweeted this:



And from now on, that single tweet is going to be referenced every time the issue of professionalism in the locker room comes up.

Here’s why I think that’s important: There are no doubt other gay football players who are watching and waiting to see how Sam is treated by his teammates, organization, fans and the league. If teammates come out in support of Sam, that sends a powerful message to those closeted athletes that they might be supported, too. And perhaps it is a step forward for those who would like to come out as well.

Shouting down the reporter for asking the question inhibits conversation rather than fosters it. And we need to keep talking about these issues. Because this isn’t over. Sam’s arrival is a beginning, not an ending. The more Chris Long’s who come forward to tell their teammates it’s not an issue, the more welcoming the locker room will be for gay athletes. And the sooner we will be done with this as an issue once and for all.

But we're not there yet. We're not even close.

When ESPN reporter Josina Anderson asked the question, she got the answer that every gay or straight person who cares about acceptance should have been thrilled to finally hear: The shower is not an issue.

So thanks for asking …



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nate Ryan's love-hate-love story

Courtesy of Jodie Valade

USA Today motorsports writer Nate Ryan is getting married in August. Have you heard the tale? It's your classic love story -- all except the part about Nate's fiancee once hating his guts. Oh, and that 16-year stretch when they didn't even talk to each other.

But maybe you have to love someone to hate them that much, don't you think? So that’s where we’ll start and end this little story that deserves to be told about two well known sportswriters who fell in, then out, then back in love again. We’ll get to all that messy stuff in a minute.

Nate met Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland back when they were both journalism students at Northwestern University in the mid 1990s. Nate was a senior, Jodie a sophomore. He was her editor at The Daily Northwestern student newspaper and they had a class together as well. 

"I remember purposely missing class so I would have to call him to find out what happened that day,'' said Jodie, who mustered the courage to overcome her own shyness and asked Nate to her sorority spring formal in 1995.

That was the same spring Nate bought a brand new red Toyota Tercel, graduated from college and drove to California to take a job covering sports for the San Bernardino Sun. They dated for nearly two years while Jodie was still at Northwestern.

The distance was tough; their youth made it tougher. Couple the ambition to follow their own career paths with the realization that Jodie was on a fast track to a major metro while Nate was going to take longer to get there, and that was one too many obstacles to overcome.

Nate ended the relationship in 1997. Jodie couldn’t forgive him for the longest time.

"It broke my heart,'' she said. "I guess I thought he was my true love. Turns out, I was right."

But it would take years to get there.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why Jimmie Johnson's surgery is news

Amy K. Marbach/Flickr
Six-time Nascar champion Jimmie Johnson revealed on Sunday that he underwent offseason surgery to repair three non-sports related hernias, a procedure that he acknowledged affected his preparation for the 2014 season.

New information on a popular public figure? By any measure -- in just about any newsroom in the country -- that would qualify as news. And yet, on Monday there was some dispute among fans, Johnson and even a few members of the media as to whether it should have been viewed that way.

Here's what Johnson told the media after he won the Sprint Cup race at Dover on Sunday: "I didn't realize it was one, a secret, or two, public information. Have you had any surgeries lately? Is there any procedures -- when did you have your teeth cleaned?"

To which I would answer ...

Monday, March 3, 2014

The wrath of Tony Stewart



Tony Stewart via flickr/AmyKay1974
Back when I was a hockey writer in Hartford, Conn., I once inspired an entire arena to laugh at me.

I was covering a minor-league championship on a night when I didn't have time to wait for players to get to the locker room for interviews following the game. As they lingered after the celebration was mostly over and my deadline quickly approached, I decided to go out onto the ice to talk to them.

You can probably imagine what happened next. I slipped and fell on my backside and the fans roared. 

Fortunately, a very kind player named Joe Day skated over and helped me back on my feet. I tracked Joe down recently to thank him once again and he actually thanked me back for treating him well during his professional career.

For some reason, his email made me smile and think of Tony Stewart.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nascar joins the national conversation

 flickr/duane.schoon
Nothing I have written on jersey/slant has generated more page views, discussion, misunderstanding and utter vitriol than a post entitled, "Nascar's silence on Jason Collins says it all."

It was written last April, the day after N.B.A. veteran Jason Collins became the first professional athlete in one of the four major team sports to come out as gay. I wrote about the reaction to the news, including a phone call from President Barack Obama and tweet from First Lady Michelle Obama. But more specifically, I noted the sports world reaction, which included support from athletes in the N.B.A., N.F.L., Major League Baseball as well as other sports.

As I pointed out in the column, there was no public statement from Nascar or any of its drivers (although a Nascar official did respond to a request for comment). I wrote that it was a missed opportunity for the sport to join the national conversation and sent the wrong message to those within Nascar who are gay. For that, I was vilified.

Of course, gay rights remain a contentious, ever-evolving issue in this country. There continue to be opportunities to take a stand. And so it was on Wednesday when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced she vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses to legally discriminate against gays in the state.

Brewer came under significant pressure from politicians on both sides of the aisle and business groups who were against the bill. There were also indications the N.F.L. would have considered moving the Super Bowl, slated to be played in Arizona in 2015, to another state if it became law.

When Brewer announced she had vetoed the bill, there were many who went public with their approval of the decision. Among them: Nascar. With the Sprint Cup series about to shift to Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, spokesman David Higdon released this statement on Wednesday night:
"We are pleased with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto of SB1062. Nascar actively strives to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the motorsports industry. Nascar has a zero tolerance policy against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, national origin, age, color, disability, religion, or other factors which deny the essential humanity of all people."
Welcome to the conversation.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Daring the NFL to discriminate

University of Missouri
The NFL has too many immature, homophobic or religiously conservative players who can't handle a gay teammate in their locker room. The NFL has too many owners, general managers or coaches who don't want to deal with the media onslaught that will come from drafting someone who is gay.

The NFL just isn't ready for an out gay player.

That's not my assessment, mind you. That's the opinion of NFL general managers and others interviewed by Sports Illustrated following the decision by Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, projected to be taken as high as the third round by some, to come out as gay before the NFL draft. According to the article, many believe Sam made a mistake by coming out. They think he will plummet in the draft and will lose six or seven figures in salary as a result.

For those wondering why he would do this, why he would make this an issue -- why any person, for that matter, wants to come out and potentially make so many around them uncomfortable:

Monday, February 3, 2014

This boycott is for you NBC, GE, Coca-Cola, etc.

zoomar/flickr

Some people love the Summer Olympics. For me, it was always the Winter Games. Phil Mahre. Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Torville and Dean. Mike Eruzione. The best game I have watched in any sport in the last decade had to be the 2010 Olympic hockey final between the U.S. and Canada in Vancouver.

There is something about snow and ice that just warms me.

So it's going to be that much harder not to turn on the television and watch the Sochi Olympics, which begin on Feb. 6. But I can't watch. I won't. Not one second -- unless there is the kind of news many of us fear and none of us wants to see happen.
Sweet One/flickr

Barring that, I will not view, listen, tweet, post or otherwise support these Games in any way that can benefit NBC or sponsors such as General Electric, McDonald's, Coca-Cola or VISA. It's my little protest of all these companies that have turned their collective back on the human rights violations of Russia to make a buck by sponsoring these Olympic Games.

Why hit on them? After all, they didn't choose Sochi. That was the IOC's unfathomable decision. I don't know how Russia won the bid to host the 2014 Games, although it's hard not to wonder. But regardless, it's clear the IOC had its own agenda in placing these Games so close to a war zone. An actual war zone, for God's sake.

So we can't do anything about the IOC by ourselves. But we can send a message to the companies that support it. If enough of us boycott their telecasts and products and stain them all for buying into Sochi -- and believe me, I am not alone -- maybe they will in turn send a message to the IOC that will actually be heard. Maybe they can be the ones to make a difference.

And maybe this will be the last time the IOC chooses a host that threatens the lives of its own citizens, places so many needlessly in harm's way and even poisons stray dogs.

Maybe not. But I couldn't live with myself if I supported the Sochi Olympics in any way. Can you?

#Principle6 #StonewallSochi.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

ESPN, suicide and a story I've never told before

 

I was once assigned to write a feature story on a high profile, nationally known professional athlete who kept getting into trouble. What was wrong with this guy? I talked to former coaches and anyone in his hometown who knew him back when the athlete was in high school.

Through that reporting, I learned a shocking family secret.

The athlete's mother had attempted suicide back around the time he was becoming a local star with a big future. Not only that, but it was the athlete who had actually found his mother following the attempt.

The information may have shed some light on why this athlete had been so troubled. It also turned what was going to be a good feature into a great story.

But before I published it I wanted to find out something about this woman who was not a public figure and was about to have her personal agony exposed. That was a problem because I was not able to interview her. The athlete was refusing all media requests at the time, too.

So I tracked down the brother of the athlete and I asked him the one question I needed an answer to before writing this story:

Friday, January 3, 2014

An NFL coach wants me dead

Anyone who has paid attention to the NFL this season should not be surprised by the Chris Kluwe column posted on Deadspin.com on Thursday. Kluwe described in detail a homophobic coach he claims ended his career as a punter with the Minnesota Vikings.

Clearly, the NFL has taken a step back while the rest of the country moves forward on gay issues. Or maybe the NFL is exactly where it always has been -- to the right of the mainstream with a streak of anti-gay through the core. How else to explain the sudden disappearance from the NFL of gay supporters and at least one athlete in his prime who was rumored to be gay? Just coincidences? Maybe. Maybe not.

Kluwe, a straight ally who was an outspoken supporter of gay marriage in Minnesota, is out of the NFL. So is Brendon Ayanbadejo, another supporter. Both saw their careers abruptly end. Too old? Not good enough? Or too gay-friendly?

What about those football players who were supposedly going to come out before this past season ... until they suddenly crept back into the closet? Or Kerry Rhodes, one of the better defensive backs in the game, who is suddenly out of the NFL after he was rumored to be gay?

And what to make of that bizarre Aaron Rodgers interview recently where he felt obligated to declare "I really, really like women" amid gay rumors?