EVERY SPORT NEEDS ONE

The Openly Gay Athlete, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If you have read any stories about gay athletes in professional sports you would certainly know about it.  That’s because no matter how often it has been stated, any article that mentions a gay athlete will state that he is “gay” or even “openly gay,” as if telling you he is gay is not enough.  I guess if you tell the press you are gay, then you are pretty open about it, and you certainly can’t take it back.  Reporters follow around openly gay athletes just for the purpose of asking them what it is like to be openly gay and play ______ (fill in the sport here).  I wish just once the athlete would respond that it is the same as being “openly heterosexual.”

Perhaps they should ask the reporter what it is like to be “openly heterosexual” and asking the same stupid questions.  Of course, that would be stereotyping sports reporters as straight and we certainly do not want to jump to conclusions.  Maybe someday we will have an openly gay sports reporter, but I digress.

You can point to many sports and talk about the one gay athlete, and it is usually just one brave person who has spoken up.  Michael Sam created such a stir when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams that an ESPN sports reporter actually reported on his shower habits in the preseason. Seriously, “google” it. It must still be in cyberspace. ESPN later apologized.

Last year Jason Collins was the first openly gay basketball player in the NBA and Brittney Griner is the lesbian basketball player.  On August 14th Griner announced her engagement to another WNBA player.  All of this means these players will from now on be referred to as that “openly gay player.”

If people think these players are among the first gay players in the sport, they can think again.  Hall of Fame basketball player and current television analyst Charles Barkley was asked by sports host Dan Patrick if he ever played with a gay player and got this surprising response, “Yeah, of course I did. Everybody did. Everybody played with a gay teammate, Dan, and it’s no big deal.”  Maybe it is no big deal to most teammates but it sure seems to be a big deal to reporters.

Soccer has Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy.  Boxing has featherweight Orlando Cruz.  Professional wrestling has Darren Young but I always consider that as acting rather than a sport, and there are plenty of gays in acting. Ice skater Johnny Weir came out in 2011 after indicating for a long time that his sex life was a private matter.  In his case, no one was surprised when he came out.  He has since retired from the sport.

Some well-known athletes in other countries have come out and have not faced the constant barrage of gay questions.  British diver Tom Daley, well-known to the British public most of his young life, famously came out last year at the age of 19.  While it caused a bit of stir at first, that a national diving champion came out on You Tube, the press seems to have moved on after a short period of curiosity.  Here they would have hounded the poor boy constantly.

Despite the media circus surrounding gay athletes, the major sports seem to want to prove that they are inclusive and welcoming to gay athletes.  Of course, it is hard to do that when athletes are reluctant to come forward. If everyone has had gay teammates as Charles Barkley suggests, then there must be many who are afraid to say anything and work to keep their private life completely private.  Such was the case for professional baseball player, Billy Bean.

Major League Baseball, despite its long history, has only had two former players publicly state they are gay.  One was Glenn Burke who died in 1995 and the other is Billy Bean, now 50.  Bean regrets walking away from baseball after a couple of years with the Tigers and Dodgers, a year in Japan, and some time with the Padres, but he was tired of hiding who he was.  It wore him down as he explained in his book, Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life in and Out of Major League Baseball.  He had no idea how to reach out for help dealing with his secret while he was a player.  He also had no idea that major league baseball was now ready to reach out to him.

In June MLB summoned Bean to a meeting in New York City to ask him about his experiences and to talk about baseball.  Bean went and talked for hours as detailed by sports writer Ken Rosenthal in his FOX Sports column, How Billy Came Back to Baseball.  The sport that had trouble welcoming Jackie Robinson and other black players did not now want to be seen as the sport afraid to welcome gay players, so they reached out to Bean.  Billy had, after all, written a book on his experiences and what he learned from them, and was also a speaker to LGBT groups.  In fact, Billy was speaking at a LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon this past June when he got the call.

When Bean learned they had a role for him in baseball he did not seem to immediately embrace the idea.  “I’m not going to be your token gay person that you’re just going to put on a podium,” he kept telling them.  They got it.  Bean said if he had someone to reach out to when he was playing, he might not have quit.  So now, Bean will be that person.  He will be the Ambassador for Inclusion.  To honor the league’s workplace code of conduct, to provide education and outreach, to speak and to listen, Billy Bean will be there because no one was there for him.  If you ask him now, he will probably tell you “It Gets Better.”

MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969

1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world was happening and I was part of it while everything changed.

Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I was a new mommy with a 2 months old baby boy. Home with the baby, not working or in school. I had time to see it. We watched it on CBS. Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion. The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for the historic broadcast.

Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero. How I envied him his trip to the moon. I always tell Garry no man will ever take me from him, but if the Mother Ship drops by to offer me a trip to the stars, I’m outta here. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, but if they could do it on Cocoon, maybe there’s hope for me, too. Maybe we can go together. To paraphrase Wendy in Peter Pan, “That would be a very great adventure.”

woodstock-1

Woodstock was just a month away and there were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert which would happen in upstate New York. Friends had tickets and were planning to go. I was busy with the baby. I wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. I didn’t envy anyone. I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and freer than I’d ever be again.

I was young, healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war. Make the world a better place. I was still of the opinion the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another, join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we believed it would end any day. Though we soon found out how terribly wrong we were, for a little bit of time, we saw the future bright and full of hope.

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now.” It made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! We were sure we could do anything, everything. We would end war and right every wrong. For one year, the stars aligned and everything was good.

Decades passed; youth was a long time ago. The drugs we take control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They aren’t any fun at all.

I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is barely younger than I was then. I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.

WHO’S ON FIRST

It’s nearly over for the year. Summer and baseball season. The Red Sox are in last place in the division. Although they’ve perked up a little, the only thing left for them is the role of spoiler. I suppose making the Yankees unhappy is a goal, but regardless, we are not going to The Show this year.

We might as well laugh ’cause there’s no crying in baseball.

WHO’S ON FIRST — Abbot and Costello at their funniest. They run this bit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It’s on a continuous loop. Yup, it’s that good.

THIS IS BASEBALL? BRANDING AND THE AMERICAN PASTIME

Photo by Phil Konstantin

Petco Park, Photo by Phil Konstantin

“It’s an exciting afternoon here at Petco,” the announcer says. The Padres are playing the Mets. At Petco Park. The mental image this formed in my head were utterly un-baseball, totally non-sporting. This whole branding thing is out of hand.

I looked up from the computer, wondering if we needed more dog food and biscuits. We’re forever running short.

But next, the announcer points out the pitcher has been, so far, throwing a no-hitter. Never, in Padre history has any pitcher thrown a no-hitter, so this should have been riveting baseball. Except the announcers couldn’t seem to focus on the game and instead, were busy talking all kinds of nonsense while showing clips of everything but the game in progress. Ultimately, I suppose it didn’t matter since the pitcher gave up three hits but still, they might have at least given the kid his time in the sun.

Finally they pointed out the right-hander, Odrisamer Despaigne “… has a great, boring fastball.”

padre player uniformThis made me wonder if they should be playing any kind of game at Petco, especially if Odrisamer Despaigne’s fastball is boring. I get they are really saying something technical about the pitch. Nonetheless, words matter. Boring has multiple meanings, the most common being dull. So how boring was that fastball?

And doesn’t Petco Park sound like a dog park to you?

Someone once told me I’m “branding” my photographs by signing them. No, I’m not. I sign my art because I’m proud of it. Branding would be if I sold my blog to Costco, after which this was no longer Serendipity, but Costco Web Thoughts — but I still did the writing and photography while they paid to put their corporate name on my work. That’s branding.

Garry points out the Padres not only have a crappy team and awful branding — Petco really doesn’t work as a stadium name — but they wear ugly uniforms. From Garry, that is total condemnation.

Whatever else is wrong with the Red Sox, at least they have not turned Fenway into Burger King Stadium. Or Walmart Watcharama. And, to the best of my knowledge, the pitchers throw highly entertaining fastballs.

JUST AN OLD MARRIED COUPLE

Long Exposure — Among the people you’ve known for a long time, who is the person who’s changed the most over the years? Was the change for the better?


Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

All the people I’ve known a long time have changed, me and my husband in particular. Better? For whom?

I am far less sociable and hugely less outgoing. I was quite the party-maker with a wild and crazy social life and now I’m a virtual recluse.

1970

1970

Much of my life centered around work … and I don’t work any more. I’ve gone from being gregarious to being a loner, being work-centric to being survival-centric.

Good? Not good? If I hadn’t changed in response to the realities of life, I’d probably be dead or living on the street. I guess that makes them good, right? I read less, write more.

I keep taking pictures. It’s now more than forty years of photography. That’s consistent, anyhow.

Garry was shy, solitary. He was so driven by career and work he didn’t have time for anything, anyone else. Like making friends, building a personal life. Yet … when I came back into his life, he began to emerge. He started to pull back from work, become more sociable. Now, he couldn’t be paid enough to go back to work.

1990 in Ireland

1990 in Ireland with Author Gordon Winter

He used to be the kind of guy who always looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ. Now, he wears sloppy shorts and old tee shirts or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts.

He remains passionate about sports, but can miss the game and watch a movie without having a crisis.

Both of us eat less, don’t drink at all. Our world centers around each other and a few close friends and family.

You know what? I think it’s good. And appropriate.

IS IT STICKBALL SEASON YET?

It’s heading toward the middle of June, the heart of baseball’s season. The Red Sox are in last place — I think. The Rays and the Sox have been duking it out for bottom of the Eastern Division all year. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but it’s a bad year. Very bad, so he has only been watching pieces of games. It’s less painful that way.

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallWhich got me to thinking about stickball. These guys are paid gazillions to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh? We didn’t have any of that. No siree.

We had old broomsticks and pink rubber Spalding balls. The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it and it had a broom attached. Try to take that broomstick and she’ll beat you with it. The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round, just lumps of old pink rubber which had once, long in the past, been balls.

In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit it (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. Crazy. The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house” and everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third was the drainage grate over the sewer

It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on (but the bigger team always won).

Stickball-Brooklyn-1989-8000-copy

Photo credit: mattweberphotos.com

If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d just like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing all over the place.

That would teach them humility in a hurry.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME

Offside Memories – Team USA is playing today in the soccer World Cup in Brazil. Do you have any funny/harrowing/interesting memories from a sporting event you attended, participated in, or watched?


One weekend, shortly after Garry and I began living together, he had read the sports section of three newspapers and was watching the fifth or sixth baseball game in a row. I thought: “I really better learn to love baseball. If I don’t, I will never have a conversation with Garry from April through October.” Little did I know when baseball ended, it would be time for football.

I love baseball. I understand it. Never took to football with the same enthusiasm, but I’m good with basketball. Hockey and soccer don’t do it for me. Other than that? If it’s done on a horse, I’ll watch it.

nationals in DC baseball

I’ve been to a lot of baseball games, mostly at Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox. But in our travels, we’ve caught a game at Candlestick Park, in Montreal and most recently, a Red Sox-Yankees match-up in the new Yankee Stadium.

Watching the Sox trounce the Yankees on their home turf was the coolest game I’ve seen in a park. And we had great seats.

These days, we watch on the big TV. The greatest sports moment I can remember? How could I forget? It was the Red Sox winning the Series in 2004 with a walk-off homer by David Ortiz. We sat there stunned, waiting for the umpire to say it was a mistake. It had finally happened!

By now, we’ve gotten used to winning. We have higher expectations of our team performance. It had been a long dry spell.

Here we are again. After a winning season in 2013, the Sox can’t seem to hit the ball with the bat. The season has been so godawful, we are already trying to forget it. And it’s only the middle of June.

Still, it’s a long season. You never know, right?

P.S. Almost forgot! It was pretty memorable when Garry and I cuddled up in the big bed (I had the flu) to watch a World Series and instead, watched the big San Francisco earthquake. I had returned from San Francisco the day before. That was unique.