These two things too often seem to go hand in hand. Whether it is because there are two teams at each other’s throats on the field, in a very exaggerated situation of competition, or it is because there is usually a huge crowd on hand to cheer on at all costs their beloved team and to mock, with intent to harm, and physically hurt (rarely but sometimes) the other team.
Race has always been a huge issue in sports, and in the European context, with soccer and rugby, unfortunately, racism weasels its way into what should be an enjoyable experience for both player and fan.
FIFA has tried to make progress on the international level at eliminating racism from the game, but it’s a hard thing to stamp out, but it must be pursued and achieved.
We, of course, are not immune to these actions here on this side of the pond. This incident happened in Canada during the hockey preseason, where a black player from the Philadelphia Flyers had a banana thrown at him during the game.
In addition to racism ruining the games we all love to watch and play, homophobia is, and has been, a major aspect of this hate experience in sports. In the hyper-masculine world of professional sports, it’s one of those ultimate insults to be called gay or the f-word. I’m pretty sure most of us who have played team sports have heard words related to homophobia and hatred towards the gay community utilized on a normal basis on the practice field or on gameday.
What is depressing is that the most recent incident of this involves the same player who was only just recently subject to the racist action above. That same Philadelphia Flyers player hurled the f-word at an opposing player, and was caught. Now just comes the waiting game to see what the NHL does in response to this incident.
But things, slowly, very slowly, are looking up. Take for example Kobe Bryant’s shout at a referee last season that included both of the f-words, landing him a $100,000 fine (granted, it’s probably that high because it was directed at a ref, but still, that’s steep, and honestly, a positive signal). Now, are fines going to solve this problem that literally exists at every level of sports: community leagues, amateur leagues, collegiate sports, professional leagues? No, and more must be done about this issue at all levels of the game, and I think if the fine had been less steep but had involved Kobe doing significant service work with GLBT youth in LA, and not just lip-service PSAs (which he and the Lakers did, which is a fine stop gap, but not a solver) we would be getting more at the problem itself.
Another positive move forward came out of the labor agreement in the NFL recently, where the organization added “sexual orientation” to their non-discrimination policies. Probably one of the most hyper-masculine sports added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policies. Let that sink in for a bit. Even though its policy possibly lost in a larger manual, its still a significant consideration that that was thought of during the entire collective bargaining process. This, in addition to players like Scott Fujita, and I would say the NFL is doing pretty good.
Like I said to start off with, sport and hate often, too often go hand and hand. And this is not like Red Sox/Yankees, Texas University/Texas A&M, Avalanche/Red Wings hate via rivalries, but hate that mirrors larger social ills, that should have no place in sport where we look to find refuge and release from everything wrong with the world.
We have to work on this at every level. I don’t know where I wanted to go with this post, nor do I think I spoke on anything really… leave your thoughts below.
***UPDATE: The NHL has found that there is not enough evidence to punish Wayne Simmonds of “possibly” calling Sean Avery a homophobic slur. I like Johnette Howard’s closing paragraph:
Sports isn’t the only battlefield where these issues are being fought. And Simmonds was right about this much: Talking junk has always been a part of sports. But the real takeaway from his story isn’t that even a black guy might or might not be homophobic. It’s that if anyone is, and they choose to express it, sports and the people in them are saying — louder than ever, in numbers greater than ever: Get that junk out of here. We don’t tolerate that around here anymore.