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Entering the fray

Professional sports, especially baseball, jump on the LGBT bandwagon

GETTING IN LINE: Bean, Lutha Burke (Glenn Burke’s sister), and Selig (left to right) at the press conference. Associated Press/Photo by Paul Sancya

Entering the fray
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New LGBT initiatives have become routine as major sports leagues jockey for cultural prominence and prepare for the publicity of openly homosexual players. As a “social institution” with “responsibilities,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig July 15 placed his league further in line with the LGBT lobby.

In a press conference before the MLB All-Star Game in Minneapolis, Selig praised the late Glenn Burke and named him the sport’s official gay “pioneer.” Burke “came out” in 1982, two years after a retirement he blamed on prejudice and his inner conflict. He died of AIDS in 1995 at 42.

Selig then named former player Billy Bean as the league’s “Ambassador for Inclusion.” An LGBT activist, Bean will refine initiatives begun last year, including “educational training initiatives against sexism, homophobia, and prejudice.”

Every major league now has a partnership with an activist group to preach to their players—the MLB chose Athlete Ally. The NFL and NHL often work with You Can Play. Rookie seminars range from encouraging simple trust and respect needed in the vulnerability of a locker room to more subtle messages. A 2012 NBA video for rookies featured GLAAD and Athlete Ally representatives on “the importance of being an ally.”

The difference between acceptance and support aren’t defined, but activists are in each case helping craft league policies. A person can pledge online with You Can Play to “ensure that athletes are judged solely on talent, heart, desire and work ethic.” But the MLB jumped headlong into the LGBT worldview. In signing Athlete Ally’s pledge, Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Joe Torre endorsed everyone’s “perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

Major leagues have yet to address overtly biblical views by players, but that time may come soon. The NHL’s You Can Play partnership will help govern what officials regard as unacceptable “homophobic remarks,” The New York Times reports. The NBA’s David Stern told the Times the league will approach players who express “inappropriate views.” On July 18, Minnesota Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer became the second NFL figure to face “individualized anti-harassment, diversity and sexual-orientation sensitivity training” because of his words.

Opening the books

The NCAA doesn’t kick off its new College Football Playoff era until the end of August, but a bill in Congress could make even its most secretive finances public. The Standardization of Collegiate Oversight of Revenues and Expenditures Act, introduced by Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Tom Petri, R-Wis., would require schools, conferences, the playoff, and the NCAA as a whole to give detailed revenue and expense reports.

Watchdogs of the lucrative and controversial collegiate sports scene would no longer need to rely on public records requests or the voluntary transparency of schools and coaches. Petri’s position on the bill’s Education and the Workforce Committee could help it overcome gridlock.

From information the NCAA already makes public, just 23 out of 100 athletics departments in the Football Bowl Subdivision broke even in the 2012 fiscal year. Price’s own district features three major NCAA basketball programs. His UNC-Chapel Hill students will pay $279 in fees the upcoming school year for intercollegiate athletics. Students get free tickets (but they also get roughly $17,000 in debt upon graduation).

The bill enters Congress even as athletics bigwigs appeal a unionization request by Northwestern University’s football team and await a judge’s decision on whether athletes should be paid for the commercial use of their names. “I’m not taking all that on here,” Price told USA Today. He says the bill simply opens the books to both accountability and informed debate about the larger issues facing universities. —A.B.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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