Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Thoughts On A Gay Tiger

If you weren't paying attention to yesterday, you missed the link to an incredibly well-done story about Princeton offensive tackle Mason Darrow, in the publication

Darrow recently came out as gay to his teammates and his coaches, and the story was about how they've accepted him, as well as how he has felt about the situation. It's a story that makes Princeton head coach Bob Surace and his entire program look really good.

Still, the story of how Darrow came out as gay - first to teammate Caleb Slate and later to the rest of the team and eventually to his coaches - is still news. Big news, actually.
Shortly after the story about Darrow appeared on yesterday, the phone here at the Office of Athletic Communications began ringing. TigerBlog gets it. This is news.

Even in 2015, when gay marriage is legal everywhere in the United States, when the idea of living a "closeted" existence seems silly, this is still big news.

And it's not easy to do what Darrow did. It's not easy to put yourself out there like that, as "different." Especially in a sport like football.

TigerBlog has no idea how many gay athletes Princeton has. He has no idea how many gay players there are in college football this year.

His sense is that it's more than Mason Darrow in each case.

But he doesn't care. TB's question is can he block? Or, as former men's basketball coach Bill Carmody would have said, "just make shots."

There are two competing dynamics in the sports world, especially the football world, when it comes to the subject of gay athletes.

First, there's the "this is the alpha dog capital of the world" dynamic. This side of it is a foreboding place for a gay player, who has to battle every gay stereotype there is and has to do it from inside the locker room, a place for the biggest and the toughest, a place where teammates mock each other, banter with each other and yes, shower with each other.

They hurl slurs and insults at each other. Awful ones. It's just how it's always been. It's not an easy place to be.

The other side, though, is that sports is one area of society - maybe the only area of society - where it's all about productivity. There's not much gray area. Can you help the team win? Are you a good teammate?

Into that dynamic, the gay athlete fits easily. All labels go by the wayside - race, religion, sexual orientation. Are you a good player? That's the only label that matters.

On a larger scale, society has moved a long way when it comes to acceptance of homosexuality, even if it's not all the way there yet, even if there is still a large segment of the population that will never accept the gay lifestyle, even if the inevitable nasty letter or email is on its way to Princeton because of the story about Darrow.

It certainly is a different planet from the one in which TigerBlog played Caleb Slate to BrotherBlog's Darrow, even if it was only 25 miles away from the bench where Darrow sat while being interviewed by Outsports. That was 35 years ago, when BrotherBlog first told TB that he was gay.

TigerBlog will admit that it was not something that made him comfortable right off the bat. It took him awhile to get used to the idea, and even longer to be able to speak casually on the subject.

One of the big moments for TB was when the Boy Scouts went through the time where gays were not permitted to be scout leaders. Sorry, but TigerBlog was never able to buy into the idea that all heterosexuals were by definition more morally acceptable than any gays.

What about those who cheat on their spouses? Cheat on their taxes? Are they still morally superior to those in committed gay relationships?

When he thought about it in those terms, he couldn't very well accept it.

Besides, this was his only sibling. They'd grown up in the same house. They had the same parents. They went to the same schools, all the way through college, even.

TigerBlog isn't sure exactly when he went from telling people that his brother "was single" to his brother "was gay," but it was a long time ago.

Maybe it's because TB has seen this world through his brother's eyes and his brother's experience, but it's been decades since he understood why it's such a big deal. Consenting adults. Who knows what anyone does? That's on each person.

TigerBlog's sense is that the story of Mason Darrow would have been career-killing had it been back when his brother was first having the same conversation with him that Darrow had recently with his teammates and coaches. Now? By all indications, there's a culture of acceptance and, as TB said before, of "how can you help us achieve our goals as a team?"

Nor does it seem disingenuous. It seems like Darrow's teammates generally don't care about his sexual preference. They just want to win, starting with Saturday's game against Lafayette.

What Mason Darrow has done takes real courage, and he deserves credit for it. The most difficult thing to do is still to be different, to risk the scorn of those you most want to accept you, to be the outcast gay football player, rather than what every offensive lineman wants to be, which is simply some big anonymous dude who never touches the ball or makes a tackle. Maybe what Darrow has done makes it easier for the next person.

He's lucky that he's done this in 2015, and he's lucky that he's done this on a team led by someone like Bob Surace, and with the kind of teammates he has.

TigerBlog isn't sure how much of the general public is as accepting of a gay football player. It's not 100%. TigerBlog will guarantee you that.

If it was close to that number, this would be a non-story. Maybe one day it will be. For now, it's big news.

TigerBlog has never met Mason Darrow. He'd love to see him play for an Ivy League championship team this year.

Not because he's a gay football player. Because he's a Princeton football player.

The rest? That's his business, not TB's. And not yours.

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