Be Smart in Covering Michael Sam As First Openly Gay Player In NFL Draft

Michael SamBy Sharif Durhams (Treasurer, NLGJA)

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement Sunday that he’s gay will make him the first openly gay participant in the NFL draft, a development that’s likely to be the topic of news and sports media discussions Sunday.

We know from other “coming out” stories, those discussions among well meaning journalists can sometimes go awry.

NLGJA member and hockey writer Tony Jovenitti puts it more bluntly in his “Out in Left Field” blog. Some of the commentary, he says, is moronic:

Most people don’t try to be morons. And most people aren’t inherently morons. Hopefully, they just don’t know any better—and some education will help them. Otherwise, they are just homophobic assholes.

And since most of you probably don’t want to be homophobic assholes, I’m going to do all my straight friends a favor and give you a guide of how NOT to react to the Michael Sam story.

Jovenitti lists “five things that you should never say when you’re talking about this story.” The list is billed as being for friends to help them avoid seeming out of step, but it can apply just as well to journalists who will be talking about this unprecedented development.

The New York TimesESPN and Outsports had early word of Sam’s announcement and all have well crafted coverage of the story.

The Wait for an Active Gay NFL Player

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has backtracked from his claim that up to four gay NFL players were considering coming out on the same day.

That has allowed for some interesting Monday morning quarterbacking (sorry, had to say it!). Yahoo! sports writer Jason Cole has written an excellent article on this topic.

“Media must be delicate in handling of active NFL gay player coming out publicly” is the title of his article:

footballFormer Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who along with Ayanbadejo supports marriage equality and gay causes, got a phone call from one news outlet. The reporter wanted to know Fujita’s opinion about what Ayanbadejo was saying. The conversation quickly turned to the reporter’s real objective.

Do you know who those four players could be?

“I figured out what they were really wanting pretty quickly,” Fujita said with equal amounts of sarcasm and disappointment.

This is where the chase gets dangerous. Even though Ayanbadejo later backed off his claim, it was only after reporters who work with Bob Costas, CNN, ESPN and numerous other outlets had chased the tidbit. [Cyd] Zeigler [of Outsports.com] eventually weighed in on the subject, casting doubt that there were ever four NFL players planning to come out and throwing a wet blanket on CBSSports.com writer Mike Freeman’s assertion that an NFL player is “close” to coming out.

“Just wait for the headline that someone has come out; anything else is just a guess,” said Zeigler, who admitted Friday that he’s only reasonably sure of two gay NFL players.

Worse, Zeigler said, there is almost a witch-hunt element to what is going on. It’s not necessarily intentional, but it’s there nonetheless.

“I just hope that it doesn’t get to the point that somebody feels pressured to come out because they feel that this news organization is about to out them,” said Zeigler, who is 39 and came out when he was 23. “You don’t want people to feel pressured into this.”

It’s anyone’s guess when the media will finally have to deal with this for real, but I do wonder what role, if any, LGBT journalists and LGBT media will play.

Boston Herald Sports Columnist Steve Buckley Comes Out

Congrats to long-time Boston Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley who announced in today’s column that he is gay. Buckley has been a sports columnist at the Herald since 1995 and also appears on WEEI, a Boston Sports Radio station.  Here’s a little from his column:

But I’ve put this off long enough. I haven’t been fair to my family, my friends or my co-workers. And I certainly haven’t been fair to myself: For too many years I’ve been on the sidelines of Boston’s gay community but not in the game — figuratively and literally, as I feel I would have had a pretty good career in the (gay) Beantown Softball League. 

Over the past couple of months I have discussed the coming-out process with my family and a few friends, and have had sit-downs with Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca and sports editor Hank Hryniewicz, as well as with WEEI’s Glenn Ordway. They’ve been great, as have my friends and family.

But during this same period, I have read sobering stories about people who came undone, killing themselves after being outed. These tragic events helped guide me to the belief that if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure.

It’s my hope that from now on I’ll be more involved. I’m not really sure what I mean by being “involved,” but this is a start: I’m gay.

Reading through the comments on the conservative paper’s website, I am pleasantly surprised by how supportive the commenters are. There are few comment sections that can be more brutal than sports sections, but the response appears generally positive with more criticism of his sports opinions than his sexual orientation, which is as it should be.

LA Times Looks at Life, Death of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels

The Los Angeles Times re-enters the story of former LA Times sports reporter Mike Penner/Christine Daniels with a piece by Christopher Goffard based on several months of reporting after Penner’s death.

Gone was quiet, circumspect Mike Penner, replaced by ebullient, outgoing — and instantly famous — Christine Daniels. Celebrity meant a megaphone, and Daniels vowed to use it as an advocate. She told her story at transsexual conferences across the country, becoming a symbol of courage to a transgender community inspired by the most visible coming-out in decades.

A year after the essay, the Daniels byline vanished from the newspaper, and within months Penner was back at work, living as a man and writing under his male name. Once so voluble about the reasons for becoming Christine, Penner was silent about the reasons for abandoning the identity.

This time, there was no essay, no explanation. But friends saw a person in torment. Last November, in the parking garage of the apartment complex where he lived alone, Penner killed himself. He was 52.

The duality that defined the sportswriter’s life divided the grieving. Mourners were split between two memorial services, one for Mike and one for Christine.

Goffard talks about the psychological and emotional trials of both Penner and Daniels. He says that Daniels was uncomfortable with her presentation as a woman, found herself alienated from other “transexuals” in Los Angeles, and her mental state continued to spiral downward as she began to shift from being Christine back to Mike.

She let weeks pass without updating Woman in Progress. In February 2008, Tony Pierce, The Times’ blogs editor, asked Daniels whether she wanted to stop the blog.

“She said she didn’t want to be the spokesperson for anything, but unfortunately that’s what she had become,” Pierce said. Posts remained infrequent, and Daniels eventually asked to have the blog discontinued.

One transgender friend, Sara Hayward, heard an eerie shifting in Daniels’ speech during a conversation in early March. Now and then, Daniels’ soft, steady voice would give way abruptly to Penner’s voice, deep and cracking. “It was two voices coming out of the same person,” Hayward said.

It’s a story where there will always be unanswered questions, but Goffard does fill in some of the blanks.

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Johnny are you Queer?

The week-long Johnny Weir show–otherwise known as the Men’s Figure Skating at the Olympics–has come to a close and the press is still wondering, as Josie Cotton once put it, “Johnny are you Queer?”

Watching the twitter and Facebook frenzy over Weir’s performance in the free skate, it was as if every gay guy (and their gal pals) watching were reliving junior high school gym and being picked on because they were too effeminate. The gays were rooting for Weir–who flatly refused to discuss his sexuality while donning a red crown–and the commentators were baffled by what to say about Weir.

Gawker’s sports website Deadspin has been keeping track of how Weir is described in the international press and its funny (and strange) to read. “Flamboyant” appears to be the adjective of choice. My favorite was from the Vancouver Sun

Euphemist: Vancouver Sun
Choice descriptions: “eccentric … that small and sparkly subculture … sequins and chiffon and tied with a pink corset … his Shetland-Arabian pony, My Blue Shadow … flamboyant, outspoken … an aspiring fashion designer … listens to Lady Gaga and Edith Piaf”.

Over at Outsports, Jim Buzinski wonders whether Weir’s coyness about sexuality is actually fueling homophobia, especially in a sport that is desperate to shed its gay image.

But since Weir is not “publicly gay,” everything he does or says is fair game, since he might be an effeminate straight guy (and no one ever cries “heterophobia”). If Weir came out using the mainstream media’s standard, he would no longer give people the cover of saying they’re just speculating as a means to mock and deride him. They would be held more accountable by a wider range of people.

Buzinski and Cyd Ziegler Jr. are on the record in saying that Weir is gay, suggesting “you need to check the prescription on your contact lenses” if you can’t tell he’s gay and that “whether or not Weir says the words “I’m gay” to a reporter, he is the outest, proudest man in sports!”

It’s a strange game we play, as journalists, figuring out how to describe people in the glass closet. Weir has succeeded, for at least this week, in being allowed to play coy about his sexuality from the “out and proud” set without it raising bigger questions about why some people are allowed to be openly closeted while others are criticized for doing the same thing.

But how should the press–mainstream and LGBT–handle people like Weir (and Adam Lambert, pre-Rolling Stone coming out interview)?  Is calling him “flamboyant” really just code for “queer.”   What if he really is, well, flamboyant?  And would him coming out stop the press from using language that Buzinski calls homophobic?

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