Diversity’s Next Frontier
If you’re like me, you hate being called a derogatory name. How do you like it when someone calls you out for being different than they are – but in the tersest of words? In keeping with using clean language on the MLBlogosphere, I won’t list those words. It’s best that we nod our collective heads and recognize them as daggers thrown against a civil society.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson heard the most destructive of those words. They were hurled by anyone who detested the sight of a black man in a Major League uniform. Despite a calm demeanor, Robinson was a volcano of rage. He could have erupted, but Branch Rickey explained to Robinson that such retaliation would run counter to integrating the sport for all Americans. By the end of his career, Robinson worked hard to improve conditions for black players in baseball as well as to remove racial inequality in American society.
Before Jackie was Hank Greenberg. Faith has always been a divisive force in this country. At the time of my mother’s birth, being Jewish in a mostly Christian country was considered as evil as fundamentalist Islam is today. Falsehoods in the interpretation of scripture pegged Jews as the killers of the Messiah around the turn of the first millennium. Yet Greenberg was not a stereotypical archetype. He was athletic – and a gentleman. Through Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, faith was never as an excuse to discriminate against a highly talented ballplayer.
You’d think we learned from Jackie and Hank. Fans didn’t know what to think. when players from the Caribbean and Latin America began playing in the Majors. Instead of race, you had language and nationality to process. That confusion was furthered by the presence of players from Asia, many of whom do not speak English. Heroes such as Robert Clemente, Fernando Valenzuela, and Ichiro Suzuki, helped overcome borders and language through a game perfected in America.
I always believe that someday our game will indeed reflect its fans, one of the most diverse groups of men and women ever to follow a professional sport. This game speaks for everyone who have arrived at its gates, plunked down cash for concessions, and brought their friends, family and significant others along for the experience. This also hits personally as I am amongst the last American citizens looking for total equality and protection under the law.
Athletes are never comfortable with something that is not accepted fully by the general society. There are places where relationships between two consenting adults have been codified, despite inequities amongst jurisdictions. Fewer are the places where one who identifies with whom they love are given the full writ of protection under the law, but elsewhere they are considered less than a full citizen. This is perhaps why we have not experienced full acceptance of a homosexual or bisexual athlete in American team sports.
An umpire in the 1980s challenged this notion decades ago with negative results. There have been some shoe dropping without names attached and denials of a person’s sexual orientation. In some respects, this game operates under an old guard mentality, especially in the realm of protecting against anything other than heterosexuality. This mentality – I call it the Kennesaw Mountain Landis paradigm – believes that a ballplayer is as good as his obedience to the book of Leviticus. Keep in mind that this paradigm worked against all other forms of diversity: race, nationality, language and non-Christian faiths. Eventually, they were defeated.
The conditions for gay and bisexual ballplayers are slowly loosening. When Ken Griffey, Jr. and Joe Torre say they would welcome an out gay/bi ballplayer on their team, you would think the door would be open for someone coming out. Yet, a survey polling 100 MLB players concluded that the game would be only halfway welcoming to a gay or bi ballplayer. Even today, players like Billy Bean came out after they stopped playing. Then, there was Glenn Burke who experienced the worst of it through his death due to complications from the AIDS virus.
Naturally, I would welcome an out ballplayer. Sadly, I sometimes find it tough being an out gay sports fan – let alone one blogging in the MLBlogosphere. Yeah, I’m single. Most of my friends love sports at least casually. They sometimes join me at ball games. In the subculture I reside in, many people may not be aware that we are gay/bi men – that’s of course if you avoid the latest film offerings coming soon about said subculture…or, listen to Kevin Smith’s Smodcasts.
Though I understand some might think my life is bogus as a human being because I am not a member of heterosexual society, I hope you can take away one thing from this post: We’re not the evil human beings as presented by FOX News or by the Tea Party Movement. We don’t all love RuPaul’s Drag Race or think every man that comes in our radar is a date for the evening.
I’m just a guy – like most guys who come to the ballpark – enjoying and celebrating the game for what it is. I just want to see my people gain equality on all level playing fields. I want a player I can identify with and root for. I want my money, friends and support of my team welcomed at the ballpark like everyone else. Isn’t that too much to ask?