Winning Gay Fans
CLICK TO REACT
I think "obligation" is the wrong word here. Just like any other citizen, pro athletes are free to express their political opinions (or not). However, they should also be willing to face a backlash from fans who disagree with where they stand politically.
I applaud athletes who have a political opinion, even if I oppose what they stand for. It calls a lie to the "dumb jock" stereotype and shows they are engaged in the world beyond the locker room. The alternative is people like Joe Gibbs, who as Redskins coach in the 1980s had no clue who Oliver North was during the height of Iran Contra.
It was energizing in 2008 to see so many athletes excited by the prospects of the first African-American president and it made us view them through the lens of active participants in a democracy.
But there is a downside for politically active jocks, especially on controversial social issues like gay marriage.
Tony Dungy became Public Enemy No. 1 among the gay readers on Outsports when he headlined a 2007 fund-raiser for the Indiana Family Institute, a political lobby that is against gay marriage. I have friends who loved Dungy's Indianapolis Colts, yet wound up rooting against them because of his activism (or at least popping him the middle finger when he was shown in a close-up during a game).
The Prop 8 anti-gay marriage amendment in California in 2008 brought forward the same feelings. Jeff Kent, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, gave $15,000 to defeat gay marriage, while Jacques Cesaire of the San Diego Chargers was featured an anti-gay marriage rally in San Diego. Gay fans I know instantly wished serious injury on both. On the other hand, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Ravens is a new gay fan favorite for his pro-gay marriage stance (his nipple ring doesn't hurt).
The same kind of vitriol does not apply to athletes who merely endorse a candidate. I know Democrats who consider Brady Quinn a jerk after he appeared at a rally with John McCain and Sarah Palin last fall, but this did not cause them to stop being Browns fans (the fact that the Browns stink is a better reason). Through online databases it is much easier to see which athletes donated to what candidate, making any particular endorsement carry less weight.
There was one time, however, where I think an athlete had an obligation not to remain silent politically -- Michael Jordan in the 1990 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina that pitted incumbent Jesse Helms against Harvey Gantt, the black mayor of Charlotte. Helms was an unreconstructed bigot who used racial insinuations to win a close race against Gantt.
Jordan , a North Carolina icon, passed up a chance to endorse Gantt with his infamous "Republicans buy sneakers, too" remark. To me, this would be the equivalent of an openly gay athlete refusing to take a stand on gay marriage. There are times when one's social conscience should trump monetary concerns.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: cornetmustich | September 25, 2009 3:16 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.