Wednesday, October 26, 2005

WNBA Star's Slam Dunk

I’m not a big WNBA fan though I enjoy watching college women’s basketball.  I never quite forgave the WNBA for pushing the ABL out of the marketplace.  I am a fan of Sheryl Swoopes, courageous statement, who recently came out as a lesbian.  This may be confusing to some because the three time Olympic Gold medallist and three time WNBA mvp is also one of the few women who took a year out from her sport to have a baby then returned to stardom.  She has an eight year old child.  She was once married to a man.  She doesn’t believe that people are necessarily born gay (a very unpolticially correct thing to say when coming out).  She says simply that she’s tired of pretending to be hetrosexual now.  She is involved with a woman and she doesn’t want to pretend that their relationship is just a friendship, a business relationship, or that they don’t really socialize with one another.  She wanted people to know that she’s making a choice to be public about it not to avoid being blackmailed or to get publicity.  

We celebrate male athletes for their courage on the field as if they were actual warriors.  Most insiders believe that there are the same number of gay men in professional sports as in the rest of society.  Yes, that includes figure skating, bodybuilding, and the military, yet no active star player in men’s football, basketball, or baseball has ever come out as gay.  Martina Navritolova did it in tennis and now Cheryl Swoopes has done so in basketball.  What’s this say about the relative actual courage of male and female athletes?

Perhaps the most interesting part about Swoopes decision is that her own life provided her plenty of cover.  Being a mom, she was demonstrably heterosexual, by our social norms.  She also did this right after winning yet another WNBA championship, in other words she did it at the top of her marketing curve.  Another aspect of Swoopes’s decision is that she chose to take on another inverted form of political correctness.  The WNBA has fought a war with itself for several years.  The truth is that a large number of its players are gay and that a very significant part of its fan base is lesbian.  The league, which is owned by the NBA, has taken huge pains to sidestep this fact.  There have been any number of stories of directions from the network to avoid random shots of the crowds for fear that America would see clearly lesbian women cheering at a sports event.  Part of this fear was built around possible speculation that if lesbians liked the sport that the athletes themselves might not be unanimously heterosexual and then what would that do for the league’s image?  Swoopes took that one on too.  

In men’s sports, if I understand things the Vikings are currently accused of well being real Vikings and having an orgy on a cruise boat (aberrant sexual behavior).  There was a Carolina wide receiver, Rae Carruth, a few years ago who was convicted of trying to have his pregnant girlfriend murdered.  Last year an NBA game was interrupted by a riot with players hitting fans.  Hockey players have gotten into all sorts of mischief and mayhem  as well including contract murder and mayhem with hockey sticks, though it’s the NBA that’s always characterized as the “outlaw” gang culture league. We’ve lost count fo the number of times athletes in all major sports have been accused of drug use, both performance enhancing and recreational, rape, murder, and making really unlistenable rap records.  The only crime I've never heard a pro-athlete accused of is breaking the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, though some of the gymnastic straddles being done by current White House staff might qualify them for various 2008 Olympic teams. Given that context, how is the fact that a couple star players happen to like men really going to hurt any of these leagues’ marketability?

Believe it or not, the consensus is that “yes”, one active gay star just letting America know that he prefers the company of men to women would bring the whole sports worship house of cards down.   In the meantime, O.J. Simpson got a hundred dollars an autograph at a Horror Comic convention.   It’s a little odd, because the original Olympics were nude and wrestling was one of the events.  Given what I’ve read in Plato, I strongly suspect that the original Olympians may have partied in ways that dareth not speak the name today or in Oscar Wilde’s day.  Where’s Larry Krueger to rant about things like this?  And does anyone in tennis even say Bill Tilden’s name anymore?  

I’m now telling myself that I’m going to go pay to see a WNBA game to watch Sheryl Swoopes.  She’s a great player, she’s got more guts than any male basketball players, and she’s one of the few people in sports who talks straight instead of fakes it.  


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