Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Coming Out

The last wedding TigerBlog went to had no bride and two grooms, one of whom was BrotherBlog.

TigerBlog was one of nearly 100 people who attended, including 30 or so who flew 3,000 miles to be there. It was basically like every other wedding TB has ever been to in his life, nicer than most, actually, with its picturesque setting on the Puget Sound.

Like many, TB was the best man at his brother's wedding. When it came time to give the toast, TB talked about what his brother had gone through as a teenager and a young man, when the reality of being gay set in for him.

TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog were there too, along with the entire family. TB referenced his own teenage son, who is going through all of the things that society throws at teenage boys. How it's all about being the best athlete, finding the hottest girls, being cool, not being overly emotional. TB looks at his son and his friends, he said, and realizes that they have an extraordinary amount of pressure on them to be what society wants them to be, all while trying to learn how to be themselves.

It's hard enough being a straight teenage boy, TB said to the group. 

Then he contrasted that with what his brother went through at the same time of his life, when he started to realize that he wasn't going to be what society wanted him to be, how lonely that feeling had to have been.

And then TB talked about the event they had all gathered for, how normal it was - and how neither of the grooms probably ever would have dreamed such a thing would one day be possible for them back when they first started to figure out who they really were.

This country is in a state of acceptance of gays that TB never imagined he would see. As someone who has gone more than 30 years since his only sibling told him of his orientation, TigerBlog has had a heightened sense of gay issues and societal tolerance.

It hasn't always been easy. TB didn't want to accept that fact that he had a gay brother at first, and he went out of his way never to talk about it to anyone else for years and years. When people would ask if his brother was married or had children, TB would always say he was "single."

TB isn't sure when exactly he reached the stage where he no longer cared what people thought, but it took awhile. Even today, when TB is in that situation, he still finds it a little unnerving to say that his brother is gay, because he never knows the response he is going to get.

Still, there's no doubting that the world has changed radically in recent years. TB remembers the way gays were portrayed on television and in the movies back in the ’70s and ’80s, as almost less than human caricatures or as predators, versus today, when gay characters are very much mainstream.

For all of this, the willingness of high profile professional athletes to admit they are gay is still lagging. It's easy to understand - lockerrooms are notoriously brutal places.

Michael Sam is going to find out how ready the NFL is for an openly gay player. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year from Missouri announced to his teammates before the season that he was gay, and he announced it to the world this past weekend, a few months before the NFL draft.

How will he be affected by this? By all estimates, Sam was expected to go in the third or fourth round. Will he still go that high, or will teams be afraid to select him for fear of adding an openly gay player to the lockerroom?

One thing that's obvious is that nobody will ever know if a specific team passed on him because he was gay, because they'd never admit it. But would they pass up a genuine speed-rusher because he's gay? Or do they only care if he can help them win or not?

TB isn't naive. He knows that homosexuality still frightens a lot of people, even with all the progress. And there are real anti-gay attitudes in NFL lockerrooms, with some players who will never accept an openly gay teammate, who would never use the showers at the same time as an openly gay teammate, who routinely use gay slurs in their workplace.

Sam's decision was national news, and it was debated everywhere on TV and radio yesterday. By all accounts, his teammates at Missouri didn't care if he was gay, and the highlights of Sam show that the other players embraced him - literally after some sacks and tackles.

TB also has no doubt that Princeton has its share of gay athletes. He could care less who they are and what teams they are on.
What he cares about is that they feel that they can be themselves while having their Princeton athletic experience.

TB has seen some of the "If You Can Play, You Can Play" public service announcements that some schools have been doing, including this one from Princeton's women's hockey team. They're all basically the same, with a montage of athletes, coaches and administrators making the point that it only matters how good an athlete someone is. If you can play well, they're saying, then you can play here with the rest of us.

Sam's announcement made TB think back to Dartmouth's men's lacrosse team in 2003 and All-America goalie Andrew Goldstein, who also came out to his teammates and then the world and was universally accepted.

TB hopes that if a similar situation happened here, the result would be the same. Of course, it didn't hurt that Goldstein was the best player on the team and led Dartmouth to its only NCAA tournament appearance that season.

What about the athlete who isn't a star? What about the athlete who is still struggling to come to terms with who he or she is? What about the athlete who is terrified that someone will find out?

Again, TB isn't naive. And he's seen from his brother the struggles that go along with with being gay.

Princeton's responsibility isn't to change other people's attitudes. It's to provide a safe, healthy environment of tolerance for everyone's uniqueness on all 38 of its teams.

For all TigerBlog knows, there are openly gay Princeton athletes who have had these conversations with their teammates and then had it become a non-issue.

Or, he fears, there are gay athletes who are afraid to have the conversation. To them, TB would say, be who you are. And if you think you can't, talk to your coach, talk to an administrator, talk to TigerBlog. You're not alone here. Don't be overwhelmed by a fear of not being accepted.

In 2014, not accepting is unacceptable.

If you can play, you can play, right?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TB, of your many excellent columns, this was one of the best. Well done.