🏆Podcast Episode 23: “You can’t win a championship without gays”
You can listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
(Edited for clarity)
Ellen: What's up, GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, the podcast where two gals and two pals give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. I'm Ellen Hyslop.
Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz. Thanks for tuning in.
Ellen: Steph, it's Pride Month.
Steph: It sure is, it's June. And while, of course it's pretty devastating that we can't be celebrating in person this month because of Covid-19, a lot of consciousness raising is being done at this point in time about the origins of Pride as a result of being inside of Covid-19, and of the Black Lives Matter protests in this political moment that we're in. So the Pride movement, it's important to note, it began as protests and as a riot. And in recognizing and celebrating Pride Month, we're recognizing the work that Black and Black transgender activists like Marsha P. Johnson have done in the fight for justice. And if you're looking for more to learn, I would recommend looking into the Stonewall riots in 1969 in the US, as well as the police raids and riots that happened here in Canada.
Ellen: Yeah, and I'm so glad that you bring that up, because I think that it's so important to look at that history and to also show that protests and riots and what's happening right now with the Black Lives Matter movement is that it does make change and that the LGBT2Q+ community was a huge part of that back in the 60s. So I'm excited that we're able to talk about how that intersection plays with sports today.
Steph: It's always important to acknowledge the work that's been done before us, too. So I'm happy that we get to do that in this episode. And so to celebrate Pride Month, we're going to spend this episode spotlighting a few stories of what it's like to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and what it's like to be playing sports because the world of sports sure does not make it easy.
Ellen: Oh, it does not make it easy at all. We've talked about sports with sexism and racism, and sports is not welcoming to people of the LGBT2Q+ community. And while there has been some progress in sports, I'd say because of those hetero normative ideals in sports and how gender binary sports are and also how society has made us think about what feminine is and what masculine is, the progress in sports has definitely been hindered. So let's get to it and talk about it.
Steph: Ok, so first, we're going to dive into the major leagues, NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, as there are currently no active openly gay athletes in any of these leagues. Keyword open. There's never been an active player that was openly gay in the NFL, MLB or NHL, the first and only gay athlete to come out while playing in the major leagues was NBA player Jason Collins, who came out after the 2012 to 2013 season ended and played for a couple of months in 2014 before retiring. Otherwise, generally, major league athletes that have come out, come out in retirement outside of football player Michael Sam, who is the first openly gay football player to be drafted to the NFL. He was drafted, but he never played a game in the NFL or played a game in the CFL. I was really digging online to hope that this wasn't true. But these are the facts.
Ellen: Yeah, these are the true facts. The fact checker has spoken. This is a very deep and complicated topic, as we talked about at the beginning, it really does tie back to history. And similar to how we've talked about racism and sexism in the sports world, homophobia in sports is also rooted in history, some bullshit laws and some bullshit societal norms and constructs that we live under and live with.
So if we think about it, a societal construct that's placed around gay men is really that they're feminine, whereas for gay women, it's that their masculine, which is for everyone, just not true. And we really hate these constructs. We think that people can be whoever they are, whatever the heck they want to be, that's totally up to them and that's their decision. So if we keep those societal constructs in mind, when we look at sports, a societal construct around sports is that they're masculine. And so because of that, that's why traditionally when women play sports or are into sports, because women are supposed to be feminine, people are like, what? What the heck's going on? You're not supposed to like sports. And the same thing goes for gay men when society says that they're feminine and therefore not supposed to play sports.
Steph: We, the we being society in general, think so much in these binary terms, masculine and feminine, male or female, a man or woman. And in sports, we sort everything into this girl or boy binary construct and gender itself is truly not that simple. We really need to start thinking about this in the sports world, because we haven't talked about it a lot. And we need to start thinking about the ways that we can throw out these rigid ideas and roles that we're supposed to be playing as men or women and also move past the gender binary and acknowledge that there is non-binary identity, and move past these polar opposites of what we think that people should be doing or should be, and we'll all be better for it.
The part from this, homophobia itself, manifests in so many ways as we've seen many pro gay athletes wait until after they retire, to come out, cause that's when they feel safe to come out. And for example, in the Aaron Hernandez documentary on Netflix, if you haven't watched it, go watch it. Retired NFL player Ryan O'Callaghan talked about how tough it was to know that he was gay, but not to be able to come out. He talked about the mental health struggles that he had and the weight that this put on him in the sports world, just having to fulfill these roles that we put onto our athletes.
Ellen: Yeah, and with Ryan O'Callahan too, it was the weight, but he also physically put on weight like it was the stress of his truth. Not feeling comfortable being a pro football player also manifested in him physically and his physical side was also his job. And so it's really interesting, and I suggest, you go in and look at everything with Ryan O'Callahan because he's pretty vocal now and he speaks about it in that Aaron Hernandez documentary on Netflix.
Steph: There's so many bodily manifestations of our mental health. When we think about, homophobic and trans phobic language, this could easily deter kids from sports. And there's so much homophobic and transphobic language in the world of sports. And it's going to stop a lot of people from entering the sports world and from living their truth and feeling like they are safe to live their truth.
Think about how many times growing up you heard guys or athletes in sports using this homophobic language to chirp each other, or to make fun of each other or to be competitive in some weird way, 82 percent of athletes have witnessed homophobic or transphobic language in their sport, according to the Outsports survey. Eighty two percent, most people!
Calling people fags, calling people gay in a derogatory sense and there is a coach who's been on record as referring to a team who hasn't been playing well as a bunch of queers. This is not a productive environment. It's not a safe environment. And if you're forced to play sport in that space and in that culture and you are gay, it's no wonder why you don't feel welcome playing in sports or if you're trying to untangle your own relationship with internalized sexism or with toxic masculinity, you would want to distance yourself from the world of sports and you would want to learn how to distance yourself from a love of sports.
I've been having a lot of those conversations with people lately as well. These are all very personal decisions and very personal conversations. A person's sexuality, whether you're gay, straight, bi, trans or pan, it's no one's frickin business. Especially in sports. It's totally up to an athlete how they want to be known.
There is so much pressure when you're in the public eye and there's just so much pressure in general when you come out, you're going to be a role model for other people. Right? Like having that pressure on your shoulders is something that's an extremely personal decision and it's totally up to the athlete. So while I would love for more people to be openly gay in sports, it's one hundred percent that person's decision. And for women, you're also not just an athlete, you're a female athlete. And so depending on your identity, you might be hesitant to be adding another qualifying statement to your identity. And that's totally fair.
Ellen: Yeah, totally up to them. I love what you said. It's none of our freakin business and it's fully their decision. Right now we're talking about the major leagues. So those major leagues, I would say, are traditionally masculine sports. But how people feel about gay athletes doesn't always change when you look at traditionally feminine sports, which, again, I hate these constructs.
But if we look at figure skating, for example, figure skating is considered a feminine sport. And, you know, figure skating is super athletic. It's artistic. If you are creative, you're athletic, you have rhythm and you're strong. You can figure skate. It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like.
Steph: And all sports require a sense of creativity. For anyone who's watched The Last Dance documentary series, you would kind of get a sense of this, that we're moving in more of this direction where there's spontaneous play, there's more creative play making, that's embedded in every sport, too. Right? So it's not just the dance and figure skating. It's basketball, too. It's hockey, too,
Ellen: For sure, I love how you said that. I think you can also think about how many commentators are like, "oh, that's a beautiful play." Or like, "oh, I can't believe you did that. He looked like he was dancing out there." Think about what you're saying.
So anyway, I digress from speaking about that and figure skating, obviously, as a figure skater got to talk about it. But anyway, I wanted to touch base on American Adam Rippon, who's an American figure skater and who's also just one of the best people ever. If you don't follow him on Twitter, please just go follow him on Twitter. He's amazing. He became the first openly gay American athlete to participate in the Olympic Games in 2018. So that was only two years ago that the first American male gay athlete was actually participating in the Olympics, which is absolutely wild to think about that. He was the first one that was openly out. And even though figure skating, you'd think, would be more of a welcoming community he still got so much backlash from the figure skating community.
So just recently, former Russian figure skating star Alexei Yagudin, who I'll admit, I used to have the biggest crush on when I was younger, but now I absolutely despise him. He found out that Adam Rippon donated one thousand dollars to the Okra Project, which benefits black trans people. And he replied to Adam Rippon saying, "When will you die? You're Earth's mistake?" That's what he replied. So in response, Rippon donated another one thousand dollars to the Okra Project. But this time he put it in Alexei Yahudin's name, which is just the best clap back of all time. And you absolutely love to see it. And as much as Yagudin ended up apologizing, it's just horrible that somebody thinks that they could still say and think these sorts of things just because someone is different from you.
It's horrible to see. So, again, as much as we're talking about the major leagues here, this happens in all sports and just in society in general.
Steph: It's really hard to listen to a recount of some of these situations in preparation for this podcast and hearing you recount that as well. It's hard and it's uncomfortable and it's hard to know that this shit still happens. But, no matter what laws are being passed or policies in our workplaces are being adopted, we have to acknowledge that this work is not over. Homophobia is still here, folks, and it's there. We've still got far to go before we get rid of it.
And to be a little weirdly optimistic here, there's so much potential in sports at this moment in time, like it can almost only get better. I'm hoping it can only get better from here. And there's a lot of really cool work that's being done at the community level. Thinking locally here in Toronto, there is the Toronto Gay Hockey Association, which is an inclusive, gay friendly hockey league that's helping create positive associations with the sport of hockey.
Also here in Toronto, there is a drop in basketball league called SQUISH that supports a game that's welcoming to queer, trans and non binary people, to women and anyone who hasn't felt comfortable in the sports environment before. So there are a lot of really great grassroots organizations and plug into your community and see if there's anything where you live that is doing this work. I'm optimistic about where we're going from here.
Ellen: That's awesome. I love your optimism. And it's so cool to see that there are organizations that exist like this now because Steph, when we grew up there really wasn't. So you're totally right. At least there is progress.
Steph: OK, so we've talked about being a queer athlete in the major leagues and now we're going to speak about transgender athletes. And first and foremost, it's extremely important to stress here that Black Trans Lives Matter. Two Black trans women were killed in the U.S. over this past week. Dominique Remy Fells, 27, of Philadelphia and Ria Milton, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Fatal violence disproportionately affects black transgender women. And before we get into a discussion about sports, it's really important to stress that. And these marches, rallies and protests were held across North America speaking out against the trans misogyny that we have in our society.
Ellen: It's absolutely horrible. And you see that sort of thing in sports, too. We talked about 18 year old track and field athlete Andraya Yearwood in our newsletter this past Monday. And we talked about a quote that she said where she felt so much fear just about competing at track meets in high school and going into college and university.
Ellen: She said "it was very scary being in a position where someone could harm me at any given moment. I felt so numb." And, you know, that's just something that nobody ever should feel.
Steph: Let's call out this bullshit thing that we have in sports, which is the sexism, prejudice and discrimination against trans people. The whole world of sports is built up around this gender binary, which we've talked a little bit about. But the world of sports is a huge perpetrator of trans misogyny and is so quick to try and create controversy around whether or not it's fair, quote unquote fair to have trans women competing in women's leagues or in women's events, whether that's at the Olympics or track and field or wherever.
And the IOC, so the International Olympic Committee has a history of policing women's bodies through extremely dehumanizing gender testing in the name of, again, quote unquote, protecting a level playing field. Pushing that narrative that women are subordinate to men. That femininity is subordinate to masculinity. And it's this messed up way of policing that gender binary in policing or in, quote unquote, protecting femininity. This concept that sex segregation equals fair play is something we need to start marinating with because we already know that assigned sex at birth does not equal gender. Right. So we need to start thinking about how cis-sexism presents itself in our sports.
Ellen: And I'm glad you brought that up, because especially in track and field, like what we were talking about, we've seen a lot of horrible stories coming out of the IOC, especially surrounding an international athlete like Caster Semenya, what are they doing and what are they up to? And so today, we really wanted to celebrate trans athletes as being part of the sports community and kind of listing their names, because I feel like in traditional sports news, and honestly also at The GIST, we don't talk about trans athletes enough and all of the incredible things that they're doing just specifically in their sport too. So we wanted to list off a few here.
So Patricio Manuel started boxing professionally as a woman in the early 2000s and made a name for himself becoming a USA national amateur boxing champion, which is huge. When he transitioned, he said that he lost everything. He lost his gym, he lost his coaches. And that was a really big deal for him because as a boxer, your gym and your support group is literally everything to you. But he came back with a vengeance in 2018 to fight Hugo Aguilar in a professional match. And he won. So he became the first openly transgender boxer in the U.S. to actually win a match, too, which is just an amazing story and I think speaks to everything that we've been talking today about. It doesn't matter.
Fallon Fox is the first and only openly transgender professional in MMA. Jessica Platt, too. I think we've both had the pleasure of seeing her speak and also play before. She's a professional hockey player. She played for the Toronto Furies of the now defunct CWHL, so the Canadian Women's Hockey League that folded last year.
And Harrison Browne became the first publicly transgender pro hockey player in history when he was playing for the National Women's Hockey League. Growing up, Browne said that of anything, only hockey felt like home to him. And it was a rare comfort zone where he just felt like he was an athlete. He didn't feel like he was a girl that wanted to be a boy.
And then I guess probably the most popular and familiar name is Caitlyn Jenner. So she came out as transgender almost 40 years after winning the golds. I believe it was in the decathlon at the Olympics. So shout out to all of these trans athletes for everything that they've accomplished and for everything that they continue to do in the sports community too.
Steph: To end things off, we want to celebrate gay and lesbian female athletes. And as we've mentioned before, because of these, you know, quote unquote, societal norms placed around queer women and around sports, it's a bit safer for queer women. So, for example, 41 women were out as gay or as lesbian or bi in the women's FIFA World Cup in 2019, which is huge four women on the Canadian team, five women on the U.S. team and their coach, Jill Ellis. Also, when you look at leagues like the WNBA and the NWSL, they are fully in support of their LGBTQ+ athletes. They celebrate Pride, they elevate the voices of their athletes and they enact and back up really great policies.
Ellen: Yeah those leagues are definitely doing it right. And, you know, as much as we're talking about this, it is still so freaking hard to be a gay or lesbian female athlete. And again, I think we need to look back at history here. So, for example, back in 1991, Penn State University's women's basketball coach had a policy of forbidding lesbians to play on her team, like forbidden. Like, as if that was a rule.
And then actually, just 10 years earlier, in 1981, that's when Billie Jean King and everything with Billie Jean came out. So with her story in 1981, she was actually outed as being gay and a lesbian when her ex, Marilyn Barnett, sued her for alimony while she was married to Larry King. And so I can't even imagine for someone that was on such a global stage and was such a prominent athlete, how frustrating that would be to not be able to come out yourself and to be outed.
And then I would say more recently, Sheryl Swoopes, who's just an absolute legend, in the WNBA. She's a GOAT. I mean, we put Diana Taurasi as our number one on our WNBA list of all time. But like Sheryl Swoopes is up there for sure. But anyway, she came out in 2005 saying that she was at a point in her life where she was tired of having to pretend to be someone she wasn't and that she was basically living a lie for seven or eight years and was just waiting to exhale until she could come out.
And so as much as we're talking about the WNBA and the NWSL and women's sports being a little bit of a safer place, it's in thanks in part to all of these amazing women that have gone through it beforehand. And that really made their mark on history so that athletes now can feel like they're safe.
Steph: We have a lot of work to do. It's important to acknowledge the work that has been done and we've got to move forward from there. But to end things off. Let's pass it off to U.S. Women's National Team star. One of my faves, Megan Rapinoe, who during the FIFA Women's World Cup said "You can't win a championship without gays on your team. It's never been done before. Ever. That's science right there."
All right. That's The GIST of It from Ellen and I. Thanks for tuning in. If you like what you heard, tell all your friends and subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher. And while you're there, rate us five stars and leave a review.
Ellen: And in case you missed it, The GIST creates sports content experiences and community that's by women and for all sports fans. If you like what you heard today, you have to check out our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. If you haven't yet subscribe at thegistsports.com
If you want to get in touch with Steph and I or you have any questions that you want answered on the podcast. E-mail us at email@example.com or DM us on Instagram at @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa
🏀To help or to hinder
The GIST: The NBA’s highly anticipated return-to-play might not happen after all...and for good reason. Players are speaking out about their reservations over bringing their sport back while the fight for social justice continues.
Who’s speaking up?: On a Friday night conference call with around 100 players, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving led the charge, saying that it would be detrimental to the Black Lives Matter movement if the NBA returned. Irving called out systemic racism in America and urged his fellow players to sit out.
- Many players publicly agreed with Irving, including Portland Trail Blazer Carmelo Anthony, LA Clipper Lou Williams and LA Laker Dwight Howard, with Williams and Howard calling sports an unnecessary “distraction” right now.
- Former NBA player Stephen Jackson, who was a close friend of George Floyd, said that basketball will “take all the attention off the task at hand right now and what we're fighting for.”
Is this a consensus?: Not totally. Other players have since come out to say that restarting the NBA season would only help the movement. Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers (son of Clippers coach Doc Rivers) made a case for the restart, saying “we can do both.”
- Rivers suggested that players use the money they’ll make to help the cause and use their platforms to elevate the movement (think things like kneeling during the national anthem and wearing the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts).
So what happens now?: Although the NBA hasn’t released anything official, NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said that they understand the players' concerns and are working with the players association. Given the amount of pressure they’re facing from players, we expect the NBA will have something more official soon.
- Due to the pandemic, NBA players were forced to stop playing the sport they love and make their livelihoods from. Now they’re actively choosing to sit out. They wouldn’t do that unless they had a damn good reason.
- And this is one. We miss sports as much as anyone, but if putting off the season means avoiding disrupting the momentum of the movement, we’re here for it.
A gong show
The GIST: The NBA season isn’t the only one in doubt. Due to COVID-19, the tennis season is hanging on by a thread, while the MLB situation is the literal definition of a gong show. The WNBA and NHL are looking good, though...well, kind of.
WTA & ATP: The good news is that the US Open will not move from its forever home in NYC to Florida as previously reported. The bad news is that the tournament might not happen at all. The US Tennis Association (USTA), which hosts the tournament, is currently considering three options, one of which is canceling the event altogether. Say it ain’t so.
- Another option includes holding the event with a ton of previously announced restrictions, even though many top players have said they will opt out if the restrictions are enforced.
- The USTA stands to lose a lot of money regardless of what they decide to do, as the event doesn’t have cancelation insurance. Rookie mistake.
MLB: Take a deep breath (or have a strong drink) before getting into this one. Quick refresher: the MLB and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) can’t agree on the season restart. They’ve been punting proposals back and forth to no avail, mostly because the players want their full earned salary, while the MLB wants to pay them on a sliding scale.
- On Saturday, the MLBPA rejected the MLB’s latest offer, and now they’re asking the MLB to just order them back to work for however many games the league wants (which might work out to around 50). Sorry, what TF?
- While this seems very counterproductive to what the players have been fighting for, it might actually make sense. Here’s why: if the players are ordered back to work, they can then file a grievance against the league for their equivalent salaries and monetary damages...which means the players could end up with more money than they asked for. Cheeky.
WNBA: The WNBA is also still negotiating their season restart, but it looks like the league wants to pay players their full salaries (up from the 60% they initially proposed) for 22 games (the 2020 regular season was set to be 36 games). The girls are getting paid!
- This is great news, especially in light of what’s happening in the MLB. WNBA players voted on this proposal over the weekend and results should be announced today. If the proposal’s approved, we’ll have basketball back on July 24th. Fingers (and toes and eyes) crossed!
NHL: Don’t look now, but it looks like Las Vegas is going to be one of the two hub cities hosting the NHL’s super weird postseason. Cue: “Waking Up in Vegas.” The league has also decided that training camps will begin July 10th. So soon!
- The NHL hasn’t decided, however, what they’re going to do if a player, coach or other essential team staff gets COVID-19 during the playoffs. This weekend, a Boston Bruin tested positive for the virus, so the league better make some quick decisions.
Everything else: The PGA returned this weekend, with Daniel Berger winning the Charles Schwab Challenge after going to a playoff with Collin Morikawa. The tournament was played without fans, which was a little strange without the polite golf claps, but still — live sports!
- And New Zealand hosted their nation’s first Super Rugby match since March, with over 20,000 fans (!!!) in attendance after the country declared themselves virus-free last week. See, this is the reward you get for wearing a mask and washing your hands!
🏆Off the deep end
Note: this section contains descriptions of sexual abuse that may be offensive to some readers and/or painful to survivors of sexual assault.
The GIST: After USA Gymnastics dealt with the monster that is Larry Nassar back in 2017, it’s now time for USA Swimming to confront some demons.
The details: Last week, six women filed lawsuits against USA Swimming for failing to protect them from sexually predatory coaches throughout the 1980s. The women say that USA Swimming, along with local swimming associations in California, assisted in creating an abuse culture within the organization.
- The women named multiple coaches in three separate lawsuits, including a former national director and a former coach, Andrew King, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2010 after being found guilty of 20 charges of child molestation, including impregnating a 14-year-old.
- The six women say their abuse occurred as early as age 11 and that those in charge at USA Swimming were aware of the harassment and abuse and did nothing to end it. Absolutely horrible.
The next step: The women are now calling for an investigation into the named abusers and those who enabled them, which is possible thanks to a new California Assembly Bill that allows victims of child sexual abuse to file claims that had otherwise expired under the statute of limitations (because f*ck statute of limitations).
- Whatever happens next, we’ll let you know. ICYMI, 2020 is a year of reckoning. About damn time.
🏆One day at a time
The GIST: Sports are finally returning. And with athletes, coaches, teams and leagues back in the limelight, it’s the perfect opportunity for them to follow up on their statements on the Black Lives Matter movement with real, tangible actions.
How so?: The Players Coalition, an alliance of players and coaches that works with governments to improve social justice and racial equality, is asking Congress to pass the Ending Qualified Immunity Act. Qualified immunity protects police officers and other government officials from legal action by victims of police brutality and their families...even if their civil rights were violated.
- And get this: the Coalition, which was formed in 2017 by former Baltimore Raven Anquan Boldin and current New Orlean Saint Malcolm Jenkins, has collected over 1,400 (!!!) signatures from NFL, NBA and MLB athletes and staff to help the effort.
Amazing! Tell me more: Seven current and former players have come together to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is “to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey,” as well as to promote diversity in the predominantly white sport.
- The organization, co-chaired by San Jose Shark Evander Kane and former NHLer Akim Aliu, will run independently from the NHL, but has full support from the league. No female representation on the Alliance yet, but we’re sure that’s coming soon, right boys?
- The NHL also plans to create a council and three committees to address the diversity problems within the league. The Executive Inclusion Council will use feedback and recommendations from the committees to address and find solutions for the league’s diversity issues.
Love it. What else?: We all know how crucial voting is to ensure the right people represent us in government. And Eric Reveno — an assistant basketball coach at Georgia Tech — is trying to make sure his athletes have the chance to do so. He’s started a movement to mandate Election Day as a day off, and it’s gaining traction.
- Reveno initially lobbied his school to mandate the day off (i.e., no mandatory practices or games) for the entire varsity program, and is now petitioning the NCAA (and using the hashtag #AllVoteNoPlay) to ensure that their 460,000 student athletes (holy crap, that’s a big number) are free to vote on November 3rd. Rock the vote!
Wonderful! Keep it coming: The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has rescinded their ban on taking a knee during the national anthem after the US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) called on them to do so. FIFA and the NFL have also voiced their support of athletes who choose to #TakeAKnee.
- It’s not all good though. Back in January, the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics released rules for the upcoming Games that included a ban on “gestures of a political nature, including kneeling” during sporting events, and this week the IOC confirmed they have not repealed the rule.
- But we’re not hanging our heads on this one yet. A lot of athletes are upset about it, and there’s a lot of time between now and next July for things to change. Just look at the last three weeks.