Setting The Record Straight
February 27, 2014
Sports media has been all over the stories of Jason Collins and Michael Sam. Both athletes have told the world that they are gay which has led media outlets wondering out loud if professional sports is ready for such openness. The media told us that Collins was the first openly gay player to play in a professional team sport game. Sam, who will likely be drafted in the NFL this spring after a stellar season at Missouri, will likely be the first openly gay NFL football player. What has not been told is that Collins was not the first openly gay player to play in a major sport.
That distinction belongs to Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's from 1976 to 1979. He tried to change sports culture three decades ago. Apparently, no one wanted to report the story. It is documented that everyone associated with Burke knew - his teammates, his manager, and the media. They all knew. They just decided that the nation was not ready for the news.
I have read that Burke made no secret of his sexual orientation to the Dodgers front office, his teammates, or friends in either league. He also talked freely with sportswriters, though all of them ended up shaking their heads and telling him they couldn't write that in their papers. I even read that the Dodgers tried to talk him into participating in a sham marriage. Burke, who also died of AIDS-related causes in 1995, came out to the world outside baseball in a 1982 article for Inside Sports and even followed it up shortly after with an appearance on The Today Show with Bryant Gumbel. But his story was greeted by the rest of the news media and the baseball establishment, including Burke's former teammates and baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, with silence.
One has to wonder why today's media is still not acknowledging Burke. Even his autobiography, Out at Home, which published the year he died, failed to stir open conversation about homosexuality in sports. He told People magazine while promoting his book in 1995 that his mission was to break the stereotype that a gay man could not play professional sports. Yet, the media viewed his story as an inconvenient truth.
Collins's coming out, courageous as it is, isn't so much a breaker of barriers as much as an acknowledgement that the barriers have already been broken. From here on in, it's merely a question of how many athletes will be coming out and in which sports, such as the NFL and NHL, and even in college sports.
Burke's story shows why it's good that there's been so much media attention to Collins's announcement. Moments like these are when people should speak up, should pay attention, or else more change won't happen. Change, with this issue, could have occurred years ago. Do not underestimate the power of the media and how it influences when and how issues reach the public.
Collins should not be going through the constant questioning he is currently undergoing. All this should have taken place years ago.
Odds and Ends
The ACC's football title game will be staying in Charlotte. The locale was somewhat in question as the conference's contract with the city expired after December's game between Florida State and Duke. After playing in Jacksonville, Tampa and Charlotte since 2005, the ACC seems open to a permanent home in Charlotte. The ACC has a long-term contract with ESPN, which has an office in Charlotte and there are rumors that ESPN may run a 24-hour ACC channel out of those headquarters.
The Carolina Panthers cleared up some salary cap space by restructuring the contracts of linebacker Thomas Davis, center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart. The moves cleared up just over $7 million of cap room. The franchise is close to $29 million under the cap and the moves could signal the Panthers' willingness to sign defensive end Greg Hardy to a long-term deal. Hardy's defensive end partner, Charles Johnson, may also restructure his deal. Johnson, whose $16.4 million cap number is the team's largest heading into 2014, is a vital part of Carolina's defense. These moves, by the team and the players, are laying the groundwork to keep the roster from an improving team together.
More off the court news concerning a current or former UNC basketball player. Knicks guard Raymond Felton was arrested early Tuesday and faces three criminal gun charges. One of the weapons was a semiautomatic handgun that allegedly belongs to Mr. Felton and was left at the apartment of his estranged wife, Ariane Felton.
Surely after the recent Plaxico Burress conviction on gun possession, Felton knew that New York has some of the strictest gun possession laws in the nation. The New York Post reported that Felton was pointing a gun at a woman. Felton's wife filed for divorce recently. He is in the second year of a three-year, $10 million contract and his numbers are down as he is averaging 10.5 points and six assists a game.