It happens every time a story with social significance spills into the playground, as was the case last week with Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders outing himself.
Sports scribes seized the moment, like West Coast grizzlies at the annual salmon run, and they went on a feeding frenzy, feverishly tapping opinion pieces favorable to Nassib, the first openly gay man to be included on an active National Football League roster. But their essays, although well-intentioned, were chock-full of assumptive generalities and shy on first-person perspective.
The wordsmiths wrote on auto pilot, as if following a template.
Nassib is brave. Check. Nassib is courageous. Check. Nassib is an inspiration. Check. Bravo for Nassib. Check.
It’s all meant as high praise, yet, in reality, it’s the piling on of platitudes.
And there’s a reason for that: They don’t know any better.
I mean, the rarest of species in major North American professional team sports is the openly gay male. There have been more confirmed sightings of Elvis, Sasquatch and Amelia Earhart. There is one at present, Carl Nassib. There’s never been more than one at any given time.
But the second rarest species is the openly gay sports scribe (newspaper division), male or female.
A handful exist in the United States—LZ Granderson of the Los Angeles Times most notable among them, and transgender female Christina Kahrl is the freshly minted sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle—but I don’t know of any LGBT(etc.) writers working at dailies on the northern side of the vast, still-blockaded border.
I spent 30 years in the rag trade, shutting down in 1999, and any gay person scribbling sports during my time was coal miner deep into the closet.
So, if we do the math, there’s not been an out gay jock journo at a major daily in Canada in more than half a century. Perhaps not ever.
Even as we hear more female voices and see more Blacks and people of color on our TV sports networks, the toy departments in the rag trade remain stuck in the muck of the 20th century, like an old jalopy spinning its wheels in a ditch.
When I took my leave from the business in ’99, both dailies in Winnipeg had a female scribbling sports. Today there are zero. There were no out gays then, there are no out gays now. There were no Blacks or people of color, there are zero today.
It’s much the same across the oft-frozen tundra. Sports sections at daily newspapers don’t do diversity.
Thus, when Carl Nassib comes out or Black athletes rise in protest of social injustice or another woman is beaten up/sexually assaulted, the scribes are at a disadvantage. Because they aren’t gay, Black or female, they’re incapable of drilling to the numb of the matter.
I mean, the very notion of straight men explaining what Nassib’s coming out means to the LGBT(etc.) collective and/or society is the highest level of absurd. It’s like having Tiger Woods for a driving instructor.
Therefore they traffic in platitudes, which comes across as trendy, if not patronizing.
When Nassib said he “agonized” for 15 years—more than half his time on this planet—before coming out, those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective got it. Fully. It’s why some of us, including myself, were moved to tears. We’ve felt the searing pain of the suffocating inner strife. We’ve lived the fear of losing/being denied employment or lodgings. We’ve lived the fear of losing friends and family. We’ve lived the fear of bullying and worse. We know what it’s like to be told conversion therapy will “cure” us. We know what it’s like to hear the Vatican refuse to bless our marriages because gay sex is a “sin.” We know the humility of being scorned and refused service. All that based solely on our preference in life/sexual partners and/or gender identity.
So, yes, we know Carl Nassib’s story because it’s our story. And we can tell it.
Sadly, sports editors across the land are not inclined toward giving diverse voices a share of their platform. They’re quite comfortable allowing straight, white, mostly male scribes to opine with an outlier perspective on stories that can only be told with LGBT, Black, or female insight earned through lived experience.
The irony, of course, is that numerous sports editors and scribes are quick to condemn the lack of diversity in, say, the National Hockey League and NASCAR, or at Augusta National Golf Club—and they’ll shame others for failing to promptly rise in protest against social and racist injustice—yet they don’t see a very white, very straight, very male business in their own mirror.
Sorry, but you can’t be part of the solution unless you recognize yourself as part of the problem.