Gay “rights” and same-sex marriage have been all over the news lately. Sick of the issue? Why not tune to ESPN for the baseball scores and an update on the football lockout? But there, instead of “Web Gems” is … gay marriage.
ESPN is supposed to be in the business of sports, but lately the network has allowed social advocacy to creep into its programming, and the Disney-owned sports network’s take turns out to be identical to the pro-gay mainstream media.
For example, a June 12 web story highlighted a video made by former New York Giants player Michael Strahan for the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign: “As a defensive end for the New York Giants, I always played the game tough but fair,’" Strahan said in the video. “And I feel it's unfair to stop committed couples from being married.” The article also mentions Sean Avery and Steve Nash who filmed videos for the Human Rights Campaign rallying for the legalization of gay marriage.
Another article on New York Rangers player Sean Avery also gave some free press to the New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign: “Avery is one of many New York celebrities to take part in the campaign, which is focused on 30-second videos supporting same-sex marriage equality. Avery joins a list that includes Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, actress Julianne Moore and Barbara Bush, daughter of former president George W. Bush. The New Yorkers for Marriage Equality campaign is part of the Campaign for New York Marriage, which is aiming for same-sex marriage equality in the state and help the federal marriage lawsuits. In 2009, the New York State Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage.”
They aren’t the only ones receiving free press from ESPN. Former Dallas Cowboys player Michael Irvin recently appeared on the cover of the gay men’s magazine “Out” and ESPN chose to give the magazine extra press by covering the story: “Former Dallas Cowboys great Michael Irvin appears shirtless on the cover of this month's gay men's magazine Out and discusses his passion for equality issues.”
The story explained that Irvin’s “passion” arose from “his relationship with his gay brother, Vaughn, who died of stomach cancer at age 49 in 2006.” The ESPN article also contained this odd note. “’He says that he found out his brother was gay in the late 1970s, when he found Vaughn wearing women's clothing. Michael Irvin was rattled by the experience and has figured out since that it contributed to his own womanizing behavior.’ Irvine explains, "And through it all we realized maybe some of the issues I've had with so many women, just bringing women around so everybody can see, maybe that's the residual of the fear I had that if my brother is wearing ladies' clothes, am I going to be doing that? Is it genetic?" Irvin said to Out. "I'm certainly not making excuses for my bad decisions. But I had to dive inside of me to find out why am I making these decisions, and that came up."
After blaming his bad decisions on his previous anti-homosexual viewpoints, Irvin turned his focus to the views that he holds now and also brings his race into it: "I don't see how any African-American, with any inkling of history, can say that you don't have the right to live your life how you want to live your life," he said, according to the magazine. "No one should be telling you who you should love, no one should be telling you who you should be spending the rest of your life with. When we start talking about equality, and everybody being treated equally, I don't want to know an African-American who will say everybody doesn't deserve equality."
While the quotes from Irvin are credited to “Out”, ESPN obviously viewed the story important enough to give it their own press coverage.
How does ESPN treat athletes who don’t toe the line in support of gay marriage? Giants wide receiver David Tyree has gotten interesting coverage. While a news article about Tyree focused primarily on athletes who actually support gay marriage, an article that defended him had to be followed up with a defense itself.
Of course, ESPN personnel are no slouches when it comes to gay advocacy. In an article in ESPN the magazine entitled, “It’s Time for a Gay All-Star,” author, Steve Buckley talked about the comparison many have made between Jackie Robinson, the baseball player who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, and whoever the first openly gay mainstream athlete will be. Buckley argued that society was not yet ready for Robinson, while “today, the country is ready for a big-time gay athlete. And waiting for him to come out.”
Jane McManus, in an article entitled, “Can the NFL Accept Gay Players,” discussed the boundaries that might arise for an athlete to come out as gay: “While attitudes are changing, that change has not been felt in the locker room in American professional sports, including in the NFL. Fujita said that more NFL players might be as accepting as he and Ayanbadejo, but reporters who cover sports rarely venture beyond asking questions about the game.”
Nat that McManus hasn’t done her part. In another article, “Sports and Homosexuality Issue Is Not Going Away”, she wrote: “Women's sports have long accepted lesbians, and men and women in individual sports have been able to come out, but men's team sports have seemed closed to the possibility. That door is opening, and it's hard to imagine that it will be shut anytime soon. It is only a matter of time before an openly gay player is a member of a men's professional team. When that happens, there will be players like Nash, Ayanbadejo and Avery to stand alongside him.”
Dana Jacobson on ESPN’s “Parting Shots” gave her own opinion about sports and athletes. “While I may agree with their beliefs, my initial thought was athletes need to stay out of the political arena, and then I realized, where would we be if some before them had?” She brought up Jackie Robinson, Olympians Tommy Smith and John Carlos, and the Phoenix Sun’s protest of Arizona’s immigration law. “So while sports are often our escape from reality, sometimes we need sports, or the athletes who play them, to help us face reality, get into the political arena, and as a nation, face off and fight for social change.”
Apparently sports have turned from national pastimes to the national social arena, and we have ESPN to thank for that.