Sports, Sexism And Sexual Orientation
Richard Petty, Danica Patrick, Lolo Jones, And Michael Sam
Many of us can remember being given a four square math or alphabet assignment in which we had to circle the one picture that was unlike the other three. A rather simple exercise meant to drill in us the concept of making distinctions, I guess. What was missing in the lesson though was the one that is different is no better or worse than the others, it is, just different.
Recent events have made me look at the connection between an elementary school activity and the elementary school behavior of some who are far, far removed from the days of walking in a straight line with classmates to the cafeteria, assigned seats, and assemblies recognizing perfect attendance.
Veteran race car driver, Richard Petty, made news last week with his remarks regarding Danica Patrick. The concept of “unlike the others” is obvious here Danica’s historic transition to the world of NASCAR was indeed interpreted as a loud announcement that she could run, ok in this case drive, with the biggest of the boys! The fact that she has not fared as well as I’m sure she and her legions of fans had hoped is not exactly earth shattering news. What is rather humorous to me though is how easily folks like Petty can single out what is different and selectively overlook what looks like them.
Petty at an appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo said Patrick can only win a race "if everybody else stayed home."
If the only way Danica can win is if everyone else stays home the same can be said for many others, most of whom have been in the industry a lot longer. Although I’m a fan of his I’m fully aware that Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t exactly doing donuts in the winner’s circle on a regular basis last time I checked not only is he male, race car driving is in his blood! Yet any whispers of his “lack of” are quickly squashed by respect for his family’s name. What’s “unlike the others” isn’t given the same benefit of the doubt!
This year’s Winter Olympics have brought to the forefront one of the celebrated personalities from the Summer Olympics 2012 Lolo Jones. Lolo finds herself in the unfortunate position of being very attractive in a field that sees physical beauty as an anomaly. For some odd reason, spectators expect female athletes to be far less easy on the eyes than their male counterparts…and if they don’t fit the norm, then the only way they can escape criticism is to excel in their respective sport, no exceptions!
A decorated collegiate athlete, Lolo has not been quite as successful in her Olympic endeavors. It was with great dismay that I listened, a year and a half ago, to her teammates tear her to shreds for not making it to the medals podium as they had done. The only thing Lolo could have done to avoid such petty cruelty was to win gold anything less somehow made her less than and nowhere near worthy of the attention she’d captured on her way to the Olympic Games.
I wish her nothing but the best as she embarks on her quest for a gold medal with teammates who appear to be supportive of one another—the type that would rather lift somebody up and face challenges head on after all, the path and speed of a bobsled are challenging in itself than to rip someone apart for the cards genetics has dealt them!
Gender and physical attractiveness, albeit the latter is in the eye of the beholder, are easy to distinguish sexual orientation, however, not so much. In many ways that alone is why I believe Michael Sam, former University of Missouri football standout, is a champion already.
Because he was already expected to go to the next level, Sam stands to make history as the first openly gay NFL player should his name be called at the league’s draft in April. For the most part Sam has received more support than he probably could have ever imagined kudos to the Missouri fans (most likely the only time I’ll ever utter those words—haven’t forgotten about the bailout from the Big 12 to the SEC) for the standing ovation given to Sam when he and his teammates were honored at a Tigers basketball game, for their Cotton Bowl win earlier this year.
However, it is the ignorance of a few that can easily work their way under someone’s skin—in this case, mine. Notice I said, openly. Sam is by no means “unlike all others” in this regard; gay men hold all types of occupations, the only question is whether they are open or closeted. Whoever amongst us that doesn’t believe there are gay professional athletes. I know, I know the ultimate in machismo, need to raise his or her hand these delusional folks have to be equal part fool and leprechaun and must be counted as such! Having debates about the pros and cons of gays in sports is a moot point they are already there, people and doing great things along the way!
The lessons learned years ago can be a positive reminder not to take things so seriously back in the day after finishing the first “One Of These Things” exercises, we didn’t dwell on what made that one block different we simply knew that it was and moved on to number two, three, four, etc. Not being like the others is not always a proclamation of negativity in fact it can be downright liberating and historic even!!