Professional athletes have been making the news these past few weeks on gay issues, and not in a good way. It was therefore encouraging to hear that professional hockey star Sean Avery of the New York Rangers has recorded a video in support of gay marriage. More than that, he also told the New York Times that he would stand behind any young hockey player who came out of the closet.

 

While he may be a menace on the ice, he is fighting for a good cause off the ice. While playing for the Los Angeles Kings, Avery lived in West Hollywood, California. In New York, he lived in Chelsea, commenting “I certainly have been surrounded by the gay community. And living in New York and when you live in L.A., you certainly have a lot of gay friends.”

It’s a step up for Avery, who was suspended for six games a few years ago for “inappropriate public comments, not pertaining to the game.” That would be when he referred to his celebrity girlfriend as “sloppy seconds.”  A former Vogue intern, Avery’s on-and-off the ice exploits have been making hockey gossip news for years. But now it’s time to applaud him.

You may remember it was only a few weeks ago that Kobe Bryant put his foot in his mouth by referring to a referee as a “flaming faggot.” So lots of us cheered this past weekend when his Los Angeles Lakers went down in flames at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA playoffs.  Soon afterwards, the Atlanta Braves pitching coach, Roger McDowell, also made news with gay slurs directed at fans in San Francisco.

McDowell, once a star reliever in his playing days, was in the bullpen during a pregame warm-up when he began heckling three men and asking them, "Are you guys a homo couple or a threesome?" McDowell proceeded to make crude sexual gestures with his hips and a bat towards the group. It was actually a married man, at the game with his wife and child, who complained to him about the insulting remarks.

“I told him there are kids out here, and he should not behave like that,” Justin Quinn stated. “And McDowell told me “that kids don't belong at a baseball park.”

Not so sure Major League Baseball would agree with that. While Kobe Bryant paid a $100,000 fine to the NBA for his ‘faggot’ remarks, MLB suspended McDowell indefinitely. To his credit, McDowell has issued a public apology, and acknowledged his remarks were hurtful and wrong. These are not the first slurs athletes have directed towards gays.

In 2003, media celebrity and star New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza had to deal with rumors that he was gay, which made national headlines for a week. Stating he was heterosexual, he chalked up the rumor as being a simple “byproduct of fame.” Then he added “I would be perfectly okay playing with a gay teammate.” He added the player’s sexuality would be “irrelevant if he was doing his job.”

In other words, most athletes could care less what you do at night if you can take an outside curveball and drive it into right field for a game winning hit. Athletes are trained to win. They do a better job at that than being role models. So far, two months into the 2011 baseball season, six major leaguers have been arrested for DUIs. Don’t ask me what is going on there.

For his part at least, Rangers winger Sean Avery says he doesn't see what the big deal is about having a gay teammate.  In fact, Avery says that if he found out about a gay youth hockey player that needed support, he'd go out of his way to help:

"If there's a kid in Canada or wherever, who is playing and really loves the game and wants to keep playing but he's worried about coming out, I'd tell him to pick up the phone, call.. .and tell him to book me a (plane) ticket.  I'll stand beside him in the dressing room while he tells his teammates he is gay. Maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it."

Kids should know they can grow up not only to be gay politicians but gay athletes as well. The straight world needs to be reminded that if you call us fairies we will kick your ass.

For all his faults, Sean Avery joins a very short list of professional athletes who have gone on the record to endorse gay rights. There needs to be more. In next week’s newspaper, I will tell you how I am going to go about making that happen.

The tipping point for tolerance in sports will be when someone who is taken seriously as an athlete and a person comes forward. It would be best if this act was done affirmatively by a proud gay athlete, instead of one caught by a cop in a car with his pants down. There are enough athletes out there who could make a difference right now by speaking out while they are still wearing their uniforms.

When that day comes, that gay athlete will find a world of support in the gay media, and even some on the field. It won’t be easy, but erasing discrimination or ending homophobia never is. Still, athletes more than most should know what it is like to step up to the plate, against all odds, overcome adversity, and be a champion. Somewhere out there is a hero in waiting.

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"If there's a kid in Canada or wherever, who is playing and really loves the game and wants to keep playing but he's worried about coming out, I'd tell him to pick up the phone, call..land tell him to book me a (plane) ticket.  I'll stand beside him in the dressing room while he tells his teammates he is gay. Maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it."

-NY Rangers Sean Avery


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