What Torii Hunter Can Learn From Jackie Robinson
By: Michael John Coluccio
During a recent interview with Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times, former Minnesota and Los Angeles outfielder, Torii Hunter was asked about the idea of an “out” gay teammate. Hunter indicated that he would not-or could not be supportive of a teammate with a different sexual orientation than his own.
“For me, as a Christian-I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning biblically, it’s not right—it will be different and uncomfortable.”
In 2002, playwright Richard Greenberg wrote a new drama which premiered in London. It was called, “TAKE ME OUT”. It eventually moved to Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre before moving to Broadway in 2003 and winning the Tony Award for “Best Play” of the year. Much of the play is set in the locker room of a professional but fictional baseball team in New York. It has an all-male cast and explores the themes of homophobia, racism, class and masculinity in sports. The play’s main character is named Darren Lemming, a popular and successful, mixed-race player at the peak of his career when he decides to “come out” to his teammates…..with mixed results.
Playwright Greenberg has stated that one of his compulsions for creating a baseball play was his complete immersion into the sport in 1999 after following the NY Yankees (then record) 114 win season in 1998 and David Wells perfect game. Many believe the inspiration for the character of “Lemming” is MLB player Derek Jeter and the character of racist “Shane Mungitt” was based on former National League pitcher, John Rocker, then of the Atlanta Braves. Greenberg went so far as to name the fictional NYC team, “The Empires”.
I doubt very much that Torii Hunter saw this play. For if he did, he might have been reminded of the difficulties and sacrifices made by so many who came before him, namely the great Jackie Robinson.
Robinson might not have been gay, but he was no stranger to being a ground breaker….stirring up controversy….angering the establishment…and yet, remaining committed to the thing most important to him… being as excellent a player as he could be and setting his example out there on the baseball diamond. But what the black community has had that the GAY community now lacks, is a marquee name….a star….a legendary talent, to come OUT of the closet publically and say those two words that silence the strongest and toughest of men…..”I’M GAY”.
Perhaps until such a momentous event occurs, gay MLB players (yes they do exist) will continue to choose to remain closeted for fear of…..for fear of…..oh I don’t know, lost endorsements? Scorn of their adoring public? Being shunned by conservative fans, family and media? I wouldn’t know…. I’m out.
But thank goodness, the times seem to be changing. Many “high profile” sports figures have become rather vocal about their public support of gay men in sports and gay marriage equality. Take for example the words of NBA legend Charles Barkley.
Barkley was asked how he felt about gay players in the locker room. He responded,
“A gay player would only be judged based on whether or not they can play. If someone is gay, that’s their own business. But it bothers me how people try to say that jocks are not going to like this guy. I think gay people should be allowed to get married and God bless them, that’s their own business. Listen, if a guy can’t play, that’s the only time we don’t want to play with him. We don’t care about all that extra-curricular stuff.”
Echoing similar sentiments, when asked what he would do if there were a gay player in his locker room, NY Rangers hockey star Sean Avery stated, “I’ll stand beside him in the dressing room while he tells his teammates he is gay. Maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it.”
Wrestling star and Division 1 coach Hudson Taylor recently launched a new 501(c)(3) non-profit organization named, “Athlete Ally”, which aims to educate and empower straight allies in sports to speak out against homophobia and trans phobia. Perhaps if Torii Hunter is looking for a new tax deduction opportunity, he might consider donating some of his considerable salary to just such a cause.
Meanwhile, maybe what this issue needs is a gay athlete of some renown to embrace the truth of their self-identity at the same time they embrace their God-given level of athletic talent, bite the bullet and just “man up”…..be the first….set a trend….LEAD. Much like the iconic Jackie Robinson did….because what Jackie Robinson did by simply playing the game he loved as well as he did, was to turn his critics and naysayers into fan and believers….believers who once held a notion that “those who are different than us do not belong doing the same things as us”…..Jackie took that ridiculous notion and smashed the glass ceiling that prevented black athletes everywhere from participating with equality and respect in a game that now knows the true meaning of diversity… or does it?
The Other MJ
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Michael Coluccio is a lifelong Yankee fan. An avid golfer, he has hit a hole in one and has never been dishonest in scorekeeping. Even though he’s the trustworthy one and it would be really easy.