My five years at the University of Oregon are the only years of my life spent living away from the San Francisco Bay Area. My last two years of high school coincided with the first two years of the Iraq War, and my English teacher graded anti-war essays, not part of our required curriculum, so we could declare ourselves conscientious objectors in the event of a draft. A transgender man was voted as our Prom King. I don't give the sexual orientation of my friends and family a single thought throughout my day, because classifying people along those lines has always seemed inane to me; I prefer to keep my company based on respect, empathy, friendliness, and whether or not they consider Varsity Blues to be one of the best sports movies of all time. But I am well aware that I have spent 100% of my 26.2 years on Earth in a particularly one-sided bubble of social criticism, and there are a lot of you out there who disagree with me on this divisive issue. I'm not here to shove my ideals down your throat, just as I don't expect to be belittled by others for thinking differently. This piece is not meant to spark social or political debate, it is meant to do exactly the opposite. It is a call to let sports be its own sacred ground, with its own legends to be told. It is a call to celebrate on-field accolades, and to let anyone with enough skill to play at the highest level of sport to be free to do it in their own skin.
This post is not a consensus opinion of the collective staff of Addicted to Quack, the members of which have wildly differing views on the cinematic merit of Varsity Blues.
You know why I hate Ryan Appleby?
It's because he played basketball for washington. It's because he made a lot of threes, and was really obnoxious as he did it. It's because of his elbow-length cotton T-shirt sleeves billowing from under his jersey, and his shaggy blonde hair bounding up and down as he jogged down the court, soaking up the Mac Court boos. It's because he was a whiny little snot when he wouldn't let Aaron Brooks bury the hatchet with a post-game handshake. If he had played for Oregon, I would've loved him, just as Garrett Sim would've bugged the shit out of me if he played for any other team.
You know why I don't care for Brady Leaf?
Because he wasn't very good at quarterback for the Oregon Ducks. When Brady Leaf had 20 or more pass attempts in a game, the Ducks were 0-6. As soon as the '05 Holiday Bowl ended on Leaf's interception in the endzone, he was a player Duck fans spoke about only in grumbles. Does he kind of get a bum rap for the late-season meltdowns in '06 and '07? Sure. But he still wasn't very good, at a time when Oregon was becoming very good.
You know why I like Barry Bonds?
Because he's the best hitter I've ever seen in person, and he played for my team. Bonds signed with the Giants when I was 5, and retired when I was in college; for my entire adolescence, he was the best player on my favorite team. I watched him hit hundreds of home runs, and set dozens of records. Were his accomplishments chemically enhanced? Probably. But that fact honestly doesn't alter the memory of a 12-year-old Tako watching Bonds hit one into McCovey Cove for the first time.
I hate Ryan Appleby, a guy who runs his own business (a basketball training academy) and has no visible character flaws apart from the lingering husky stench. I don't like Brady Leaf, a guy whose reputation got worse as Dennis Dixon's got better, and never got a chance at redemption due to injury. I love Barry Bonds, a man who most likely cheated his way through a half-dozen baseball seasons and a few major records. And if any of them came out as gay, my feeling about them would not change, not in the slightest.
And why should it?
Sports allegiance, especially in the professional ranks, is a fickle exercise. In our current age of free agency, one-and-dones, and constant transfers and trades, it's nearly impossible for fans to grow too attached to individual players. Loyalties lie with the team, and the players simply put on the uniform and go to work. And when those athletes are done with work, they're just guys with free time. Some use their free time for clubbing, drunk driving, and saying regrettable things on Twitter. But you know what? Plenty of non-athletes do the same thing. Other athletes ,and non-athletes alike, use their free hours and resources for community outreach, quality family time, and other good works. So why would we expect athletes to have any less variety when it comes to attraction? Testosterone level, hand-eye coordination, and physical size and strength have nothing to do with sexual orientation, so it isn't as though being gay puts you at an athletic disadvantage. According to census and poll data, roughly 3% of the developed world identifies as homosexual. Using that percentage, that means there are around 120 gay athletes in the four major US men's sports. At first glance, that number seems high. But what if it isn't? Would it be that unbelievable if there were 120 gay athletes among the 122 teams in the big four sports? Many of us know at least one person who identifies as gay; should our sports teams be any different?
I admire Jason Collins for his his willingness to be the first; as far as leaders and advocates go, gay athletes couldn't have picked a better ally than the articulate veteran center who is respected by practically the entire league. Collins won't be the last to go public with his sexuality; over time, gay male athletes that "come out" will be younger, more talented, and less afraid of backlash. But hopefully, the next athlete to go public will be able to do it with less fanfare, and more inward acceptance. Over time, men's sports will catch up to women's sports. I consider it woefully behind the times when a male athlete needs a Sports Illustrated feature to announce himself as gay when you compare it to Brittney Griner casually mentioning her sexuality in passing, and having it treated the same as if she'd said her favorite color was green, or Martina Navratilova, openly gay for decades, and her sexuality rarely discussed as something less than normal. But I personally can't wait until an athlete's sexuality is met with, "Okay fine, but can you return punts?" Over time, we'll come to realize that this was never a big deal, that straight players never had an issue sharing a shower with a gay teammate, that many players knew they had a gay teammate all along, and chose to keep the information amongst the safety of the locker room. Over time, we might even begin to wonder what the big deal was in the first place, and why this was ever any of our business.
Fans that cheer for pro sports teams are as diverse as the players that play the games. They represent the entire societal spectrum of this country, and it would be futile to try and get an entire sport's worth of fans to agree on anything overarching. Therefore, I propose a separation between life and sports. What I mean is this: what an athlete does with his life off the court shouldn't be held in the same realm as how he plays and who he plays for. For instance, I really appreciate what the Albert Pujols Foundation does to aid families affected by Down syndrome, and from what I can tell, Pujols is one of the better guys in all of sports. But when my Giants play the Angels, I want Pujols to strike out every time he comes to bat. While Oregon football was in the midst of its many misdeeds in the early part of the Chip Kelly era, there were numerous players who were less than perfect off the field. But when Saturday rolled around, and the players had the blessing of the program to take the field, they had my support. I think the off-field merit of an athlete should be judged by how he carries himself, how he gives back, and how he uses his wherewithal for good. But from a fan standpoint, I don't think you have to think anything about what kind of people play for your team. Remember, you root for the laundry. Whether the guy that wears the shirt is gay, straight, a douche, or a saint, it shouldn't matter.