Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Time to start outing athletes? I don't think so, LZ

In all the years I've been a sports reporter, I've rarely had a good reason to ask an athlete, coach or administrator this question:

"Who are you shtupping?"

Apparently, LZ Granderson thinks we should start asking those hard questions of sports figures who might be gay. Granderson, who writes for ESPN The Magazine and is one of the few out gay sportswriters in the business, believes it's time reporters treat gay athletes the same as straight athletes and write about their private lives:

"The unintended byproduct of respecting a player's privacy is rendering him invisible, and that invisibility allows prejudice to fester,'' Granderson wrote of the media's hesitance to tackle the subject. "In the case of gay athletes, the unspoken truth provides cover for our latent homophobia in the mainstream media. While we don't mind chasing down and reporting every detail of presumed heterosexual athletes' lives, we work particularly hard to avoid rumors of homosexuality. What weighs heaviest on me about this code is that it inadvertently endorses shame. It grants permission for bigotry. And it perpetuates the assumption that gay male professional athletes are a rarity. The media -- more to the point, I -- haven't shown the courage to delve into whether or not that is true.
It's time the charade ends. It's time the media start covering gay athletes' off-field lives with the same intensity and integrity with which we cover straight athletes."

Here's the first mistake in that argument: We generally don't chase down and report every detail of presumed heterosexual athletes' lives. It's often only when a sports figure makes his personal life public fodder that reporters rightfully pursue the story.

Nobody grilled Tiger Woods about his sexual conquests until he made himself a public spectacle with a car accident that devolved into revelations of serial adultery. Nobody asked New York Jets coach Rex Ryan about his quirky personal desires until his wife posted a video online that showed he had a foot fetish.

Once it's out there it's fair game. And if there was a price to be paid for those revelations, they were the ones to bring that upon themselves.

Here's the second mistake in Granderson's argument: Equating the behavior of people like Woods and Ryan with sports figures who are gay. Why should private lives be scrutinized to that level merely because someone is gay? Unless, of course, you view being gay as worthy of heightened scrutiny above those of the average heterosexual athlete.

The third mistake? That's the most damning of all. Outing a sports figure puts that person at risk in ways that straight people never face. I'm sure Granderson is aware that it is perfectly legal in 29 states to fire someone for being gay. And everyone knows the risk of physical assault that exists for anyone who is gay -- something heterosexual sports figures generally don't have to worry about no matter how outlandish their behavior may be.

I suspect many sports reporters know coaches, athletes or administrators who are gay. I certainly do. It's respect and understanding and concern -- not homophobia, discomfort with the subject matter or lack of courage -- that keep many of us from outing those in the industry we know are gay.

As long as the law does not treat gay people the same, I won't treat them the same. If the day comes when being gay is no longer a fireable offense in this country, when it no longer creates risk to those who are closeted, then those questions can be asked in casual interviews.

But not a day before.


  1. The NFL, NBA and MLB have policies banning discrimination against sexual orientation, so firing a gay or lesbian employee because of sexual orientation would be a violation of contract law in all 50 states.

    I'd also make a distinction between publishing that a person is gay when you know that person wants the information to be kept secret (outing) asking a question (not outing).

    But I like that you're involved in active thinking about whether these questions should be asked rather than the passive assumption by many that they should not be. I'm also glad you used the word "shtupping."

    1. That's a very fair point, but I would argue that the question itself is intrusive when you look at the standards that are generally applied to athletes' personal lives.

      You also look at athletes that were asked if they were gay, sometimes incessantly, in the past, even declining to comment or asking to respect privacy was often construed as a "maybe" if not a "yes." I think back to several athletes, but Carl Lewis probably sticks out the most.

      I feel like people should simply make an effort to create a more comfortable environment for those who want to share their personal story. But there's no responsibility to get the question out there in the open. In fact, there's somewhat of an obligation to keep such questions away from the sea of anonymous mics and cameras. It's not a matter of shame or protection, it's simply a matter of fair treatment and non-intrusion.

  2. League policies didn't stop some teams from asking potential draft picks if they were gay. It's an issue, which is why so many gay athletes don't come out. We're a long way from the day when you can casually ask an athlete if he's dating men or women. And asking the question is essentially pressing athletes to lie or out themselves. As long as there is a danger for athletes to come out, it is not our place to put them in that position.

  3. Viv: Well done.

    His attotude really bothered me, and you summed it up well.

  4. Extremely well done, Viv.

    You get it.

    I could kiss you!

  5. But being gay isn't a shameful being. It's an inherent being. Treating it as a plague, or something to be ashamed of casts more shunning of those who are. If every gay person was honest, open and forthcoming about who they are, that would be a sure bet way to eliminate a prominent portion of homophobia in society. But living in a dark closet suggests you don't want to offend anyone for being gay, which suggests being gay is offensive. How do you abolish the prejudice in legislation against gays? by ending the prejudice that is societal against gays, and that comes via exposure, visibility and being open. They indeed work hand in hand.