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Professional Sports And Moving Forward Past Tokenism

Was pleased and excited last week to hear about Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player, being selected in the NFL Draft.

Then, this week, I saw this video about the number WHERE he was picked… 249th overall.


The NFL Draft comes on the heels of NBA player, Jason Collins, announcing that he is gay.

The biggest difference between the two, is that Michael Sam has not yet “proven his worth” at the professional sports level, (he was drafted out of College, where he was extremely successful) whereas Jason Collins was nearing the end of his career, and had become a free agent, (prior to his being signed by the Brooklyn Nets in February 2014).

No doubt, it is difficult to be first.  There has to be a massive amount of consideration, prior to announcing something that is private, and frankly, SHOULDN’T MATTER TO ANYONE.

Why would any team or sports organization want anything BUT the best players, regardless of color, sexual orientation, nationality or whatever other criteria you want to divide people by.  And yet, it apparently still does.

In one article I read recently, this quote floored me…

One NFL coach, speaking anonymously to Sports Illustrated after Sam came out, said: “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet.”

I sincerely hope I am wrong… but the Teams who are giving these players their opportunities, seem to be struggling to find success. And both Teams received a “bump” in merchandising revenues, when these signing announcements were made.  And that got me thinking about ‘tokenism’.

If you aren’t sure what tokenism is, here is the Dictionary.com definition:

TOKENISM:

1) the practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture, as in offering opportunities to minorities equal to those of the majority.
2) any legislation, admissions policy, hiring practice, etc., that demonstrates only minimal compliance with rules, laws, or public pressure: Admitting one woman to the men’s club was merely tokenism.

In light of recent ugliness on Social Media by Boston “fans”, directed towards PK Subban (an African-American hockey player), it makes me wonder how far we’ve come, towards being an “enlightened” society.  Many retired hockey players admit, that they do research on the families and friends of opponents, in order to be able to “rile up” opponents in on-ice scrums.  But, as hockey fans, how do we so easily cast aside the legacy of Boston Bruin Willie O’Ree (the first hockey player to break the color barrier in 1958) and call out a player who is a visible minority.  PK Subban is a well spoken, skilled hockey player, who works hard (on and off the ice) to promote hockey as a sport for everyone.

Hopefully, the selection of an openly gay football player, Jason Collins’ announcement, more and  more visible minorities playing hockey, and inclusive organizations such as You Can Play – are just the beginning of a more open and inclusive sports environment, and the culture of sports will become more enlightened.  This would, I think, help move sports fans, and society as a whole, to a better place.

I don’t think that there should be quotas, or requirements, or any such “rules”… but simply allow the best players to play in the top sports leagues, without their ethnicity, skin color, or sexual orientation being of ANY concern.  I believe the only thing that any of these athletes wants, is to be considered on an equal basis, against the others competing for the available positions on the teams.

I don’t think ALL the idiots will ever go away.  But, in the last while, sports fans have seen a LOT of examples of team owners (such as Donald Sterling), team management (Michael Sam getting passed over 248 times), and team coaches (see the “anonymous” quote above), indicating that many of the idiots are still RUNNING the Teams.

Enough.

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