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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mixed Messages, Everywhere You Look ... But Welts Sends the Right Message

When you are in need of a good lead paragraph, there is none better than the Declaration of Independence which reads:

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
"All men are created equal."  A very well written statement, if there ever was one. And, as the great Thomas Jefferson-penned document continues, "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

To be clear, the word "unalienable"  which is often written as "inalienable," an adjective, is defined as: unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.


When writing what I hope is a 'Thinking-man's column" for The, I try my very best to present my train of thought, my line of reasoning, which presents what I believe to be the truth as I strive to present both sides of a story which might allow the reader to form his/her own opinion.  Often, the topics include trivial sports news and information or a take on a more important hard new story, the current wind-blowing of politics or an interesting entertainment events. Sometimes, I can weave an event in sports within a bigger event in history, and, every now and then, I feel obligated to tackle the controversial news of the day like today  when the news involves some mixed messages put forth by "We the People."

To state my case in this column, I will make note of a few newsworthy events over the past 18 years or so.  The chronology of those events, as they are laid out in front of you, are an important step in realizing the mixed messages being sent by our government, both federal and state, by our leaders, by our sports and their governing bodies, by the athletes themselves, and, of course, by the general population.  I will list a few of them to illustrate my thoughts, noting that, by no means, do I believe this story became a topic for discussion or lack thereof as recently as 1993.

1993 - The United States military, under the direction of Commander in Chief Bill Clinton, adopts the policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with regard to admission of homosexuals into the military ranks. 

1997 - The WNBA begins play, becoming the most prominent professional sport for women. The league does little in its marketing to gay/lesbian fans and there is little or no mention of lesbian athletes competing.

2001 - The Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA hold a "Gay Pride Night" at a game.  The promotion is recognized by news media as the first pro sports promotion focused on gay fans. Upon the reports, two to eight other WNBA teams make public their ticket sales efforts targeting lesbian women. WNBA president, Val Ackerman, states at the time, "We welcome all fans and to the extent that members of the lesbian community are indicating their support, I think that is terrific."

2002 - WNBA center Sue Wicks of the New York Liberty announces she is gay.  There is little or no follow-up on the story.

2005 - WNBA superstar, three-time WNBA MVP and Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes announces that she is gay via a story in ESPN the Magazine. The story receives significant coverage, noting Swoopes' many endorsements and her status as a world class athlete.

2007 - In February, former NBA player and Penn State star, John Ameachi of Britain's national basketball team, announces via appearances on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and an ESPN published book that he is gay.  Ameachi's announcement sees extensive coverage on ESPN - as the world leader in sports cross promotes its own book- and gets attention 10-15 pages off the regular sports/footy dialogue in the UK, but receives very little coverage elsewhere.

2007 - Days later, retired NBA All-Star and 2000 US Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway states in a taped radio interview that he would ask for an openly gay teammate to be removed from a team that he played on, noting that 'he wouldn't want him to be in the locker room with us."  Hardaway, who was attending the 2007 NBA All-Star Game as a guest of the league, an NBA legend so-to-say, was asked to leave the event by the league. A handful of other players offer their viewpoints which further illustrate the mixes messages constantly sent on the topic of homosexual players in sports, a subject Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon covered with this story.

2008 - Barack Obama campaigns, wins the Presidential election and states in his first State of the Union address (2009) that he will work with Congress and the military to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell" to do away with the law that denied gay Americans the right to serve their country in the military.

2010 - From March through May, Congress debated the various laws, bills, amendments to the bills and eventually passed a law to end "DADT."

2010 - In September, Arizona Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for the 2008 Presidential election, led a filibuster which caused the bill to stall in the U.S. Senate. The bill is rewritten and eventually passes in both the House and Senate in mid-December.

2010 - The US federal government, with President Obama signing the bill on December 22, 2010, repeals the law.

2011 - On April 15, Los Angeles Lakers star and Olympic gold medalist Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for directing a gay slur at an NBA referee in a fit of frustration. The incident was caught by TV cameras and microphones while being broadcast on TNT nationwide.
Rick Welts

2011 - On May 15, in the Sunday New York Times, Phoenix Suns team president and CEO Rick Welts, one of the most prominent and well-respected executives in all of sport, announced that he is gay.

2011 - The same day as Welts announcement, CNN personality Don Lemon came out publicly via a Twitter message and another New York Times article.

2011 - Coincidentally, the same week as Welts made his announcement, the NBA aired a public service announcement featuring Phoenix Suns players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley which addresses the use of improper language and gay slurs by teenagers.

2011 - After a halftime report is cablecast on Welts' NYT announcement during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat - the most watched NBA game ever on cable television in the USA - the broadcast returns to Chicago's United Center which is blaring the Village People's "Y.M.C.A." to the delight of fans in attendance, many dancing in the aisles. The Village People rock group, through its double entendre lyrics and portrayal of portions of gay society of NYC's Greenwich Village in the late 70's and early 80s, sang the song which became a self-proclaimed 'gay anthem' at clubs and discos the world over as they sold over 100 million records.

So, that recaps nearly two decades of American life and its mixed messages to a confused public that doesn't even know how to discuss the topic.  I've mentioned just a few milestones or low-points, and I haven't even delved into the same-sex marriage debate that you can look-up right here.

What do you make of all of this?

I tend to agree with Welts and his viewpoint that when you can start the discussion and get a dialogue going between friends, co-workers, teammates, whoever, it is a good thing.  For some more clarity, try listening to a very poignant podcast conducted by ESPN Page 2's Bill Simmons who interviewed Welts on Monday.  It was brilliant.  Here is the link which I highly recommend that you listen to when time permits - Bill Simmons.

And, when in doubt, consult John Lennon:

"There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It's easy.
There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time - It's easy."

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