Monday, March 5, 2012

Homosexuals In Sports: League CBAs & Calling All Commissioners

Former Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway once proclaimed he hated gay people.

“You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known," Hardaway said in 2007. "I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

Partrick Burke has decided to do something about addressing homophobia in sports – much like his brother Brendan did by being the first openly gay manager in hockey.

Patrick, son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, has launched a campaign promoting equality in sports irrespective of sexual orientation. As you may have heard by now, it’s called “You Can Play” and features hockey players like Rick Nash, Duncan Keith, Corey Perry, Dion Phaneuf and Henrik Lundqvist.

Patrick’s brother, Brendan, made headlines when he came out in November 2009 while serving as the manager of Miami of Ohio's college hockey team. He was tragically killed in a February 2010 car crash at the age of 21.

This campaign represents a meaningful and vital step in the right direction.

Collective Bargaining Agreements & Homosexuality

The NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL have also taken steps in that direction. Their collective bargaining agreements have all been amended to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is new.

Here’s how the NHL CBA reads at Article 7.2:
Neither the NHLPA, the NHL, nor any Club shall discriminate in the interpretation or application of this Agreement against or in favor of any Player because of religion, race, disability, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, or membership or non-membership in or support of or non-support of any labor organization.
Here’s the relevant clause from Article 49 of the NFL CBA:
No Discrimination: There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the NFL, the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.
The question remains, however, can the leagues do more. We know that Burke’s campaign, while it is supported by the NHL, does not expressly tie them in. You will note that Burke says the campaign has the support of players from “around the world”, and not the NHL specifically. Of course, these are NHL players so there is an implied connection. Still, there is a distinction being made and I presume it is intentional.

For every player that says that he is fine with a gay teammate, there is another that expresses his displeasure over the idea, or just makes a vague yet transparent comment like “players aren’t ready for a gay teammate”.
Frankly, a lot of baseball players at one time weren’t ready for a black teammate but it still happened.

Calling All Commissioners

So what do to next? The first step would be for the Commissioners of the leagues to declare, in no uncertain terms, that their sports welcome homosexuals and encourage them to come out. Goodell, Bettman, Stern and Selig should stand up and make that statement.

The next step would effectively be Jackie Robinson Part 2: addressing discrimination by way of an institutional and coordinated effort. An active player would come out with the express backing of the league and his team.

That’s what happened with Robinson. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed Robinson, and with the help of their minor league affiliate the Montreal Royals, and team president Hector Racine, began the journey of integrating the first black player in major league baseball. This was a concerted effort among many, and had institutional support. The player was protected and the idea of integrated baseball was able take flight.

It will happen – a player will eventually come out as gay. In order to help such a move  achieve success, it can’t just be a player spontaneously announcing he is gay. The league and teams need to engage in a coordinated effort to make it work.

And one thing is for sure - whoever does it will forever be known as a pioneer and will be mentioned in the same breath as Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood.

The league needs to pick the right kind of player. He would need to be thoughtful, patient and have thick skin. He will also need to have faith that this is worth the risk. It may also help if he is a higher end player. As well, other players will need to be educated.

This isn’t going to be easy. However, the hope is that years from now we will get to a point where no one really cares whether a player is gay, and young men and women can place their focus where it needs to be – squarely on sports.

Sports can be an effective vehicle for change. Time for the Commissioners to get in the front seat.

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