By Danielle Oliver – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student
Society has made tremendous bounds in the direction of equality and squashing discrimination in sports. However, progress can still be made in respect to discrimination of LGBT athletes or in other words, the “leftovers” which remain of discrimination need to be scraped in the garbage.
We can thank the hard workers and ground breakers such as Branch Rickey (he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty), who ushered change by hiring Jackie Robinson to join the Brooklyn Dodgers during a predominately white era. Appropriately, people are still committed to ensuring racial equality in professional sports; NBA commissioner Adam Silver dropped the hammer down on former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling in light of his racist remarks by banning him for life. Likewise, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banned the use of the “n-word” by players and management to discourage racism on the field. This last move was contentious whether it remedied the issue of racism or not and has even been seen as a form of racism itself. Despite the controversy, many can agree that Goodell is a strong advocate for racial equality and is well intentioned.
Without taking away any merit from the uproar of racial equality, one must ask why the silence on protecting against homophobic discrimination. Penalization for homophobic slurs in the NFL is being considered says the league but what exactly is there to consider? LGBT youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their “straight” peers. This is often derived from feelings of being “shut out of the game of life”. Due to the prioritization of national sports in society, they cannot be spared as a contributing factor to this reality.
New data from a recent study found that homophobia is still very prevalent as 81% of the Canadians surveyed witnessed or experienced homophobia and 66% claimed they would feel unsafe in spectator areas if they were open about their sexuality. Furthermore, as the U.S. ranks worst for homophobia and with the NFL being under particular scrutiny due to the shocking numbers of players who are open about their sexuality (only six have come out in their retirement and before Sam Michael, there has never been a player who has been publicly out while playing), they are perfect candidate to initiate change.
National sports have led social progress where politics and religion have failed. This includes transcending national differences, fostering universal values of fair play, and mutual respect. Commissioners and team owners should use this tremendous power to make some suds, wash away homophobia, and encourage society to embrace and accept LGBT youth who feel isolated.
Regretfully, the issue is being “tip-toed” around, and frankly, it is not good enough. Goodell attempts to put rest to these concerns by stating, “We do things the right way. We will give [athletes/managers] that education and training. I hope that will solve the problem.” You, I, and even Goodell himself, know his prediction is flawed. If that were the case, discrimination, would be wiped clean by now. Additionally, his claim also lacks conviction as he himself implemented a policy change in addition to education to discourage racial discrimination in the NFL.
Thankfully, times are changing and, by no coincidence, laws are taking the plunge. In light of the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S., it is unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will even acknowledge laws that deny people equal protection on the basis of their sexual identities. This extends to sports and members of the LGBT community have the right to protection through laws against discrimination similar to the laws in sports protecting against gender and racial discrimination. If that isn’t enough encouragement, the risks of banning LGBT discrimination in sports are low. Much lower than Rickey introducing Robinson thanks to a pre-existing movement towards societal acceptance of LGBTs despite the residual hard-to-reach, discriminating grease left to scrub away.
All things considered, I strongly agree with Dr. John Fitzgerald Gates, a national diversity expert and former Associate Dean of Harvard College, that professional sports commissioners and team owners have no excuse for avoiding their chores and should take the lead in cleaning up every last dish of discrimination “in the locker room, in boardrooms and contracting, and among fans and employees.”