American Sport: Straight and Narrow, but are there any Real Men?

By DuncanRhys C. Liancourt.

––There seems to be broad agreement that the most important, and lasting thing to come out of Jim Joyce’s bad call unperfecting Armando Galarraga’s perfect game––for baseball, for sport in general, and for the men themselves––is a perfect example of sportsmanship, sportsmanship defined by honesty, integrity, grace, and the humanity of Joyce and Galarraga. These two are real men, in the best and fullest sense of the word, first, and sportsmen after that.

Broad agreement on anything in America these days appears about as difficult to achieve as a perfect game in baseball––there have been only 20. A quick search of commentary on the Galarraga affair will show, however, that I am not waxing hyperbolic with my terminology: nearly every commentator lionizes Joyce and Galarraga, and their actions with the same words––honesty, integrity, grace, humanity, and sportsmanship. “Their grace and honesty,” Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated writes, “are what lasts…being perfect is not more important than being human…it was a beautiful, lasting picture of sportsmanship.” Being interviewed on NPR Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press says, “you didn’t get a perfect game but you got a perfect example of what true sportsmanship should be. You saw integrity exhibited at its highest level…isn’t this what we expect of athletes? True sportsmanship.”

But is that really all we expect of athletes, that they can play their game in a sportsmanlike manner? Are we that evolved, that secure? Do we care about honesty as deeply as these paeans seem to indicate? It seems to me that most, if not all of these mature and heartwarming comments are real, that the people making them believe them. But they are not true, not more than half. The half that is true is the praise for Joyce and Galarraga, and to that I add my humble, non-baseball loving part. The other half, the stuff about caring only about the sportsmanship, humanity and honesty of our athletes is the untrue part, though I believe many people would like it to be true. Some think it is, and I don’t think they mean to mislead. I think they are in denial. Bernard Goldberg of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel summed it all up, the lack of honesty and the denial about it, in his interview with a top professional athlete: “you’re the only openly gay man playing currently on a major team sport.”

This athlete, talking about the time before he came out, said he was a “master of impersonating a straight man.” He talked about the guilt he felt about his deception, said “it’s ended my marriage and nearly driven me to suicide. Now it’s time to tell the world the truth––I’m gay.” When Goldberg asked the athlete what he had to say to sport about his being “the only openly gay man playing currently on a major team sport,” this athlete replied, “shame on you, shame on the world.”

Gareth Thomas, British Lions rugby legend, is the athlete. He came out to Helen Weathers of The Mail on December 19, 2009, and Bernard Goldberg was still able to say to him in June of this year that he was the only out professional athlete playing for a major team sport. Thomas was understandably nervous about coming out, afraid he would not be allowed to continue living his dream of playing for his homeland of Wales. He feared he would no longer be accepted, and that his talent would be thrown away. But sport and sportsmanship prevailed. Gareth’s teammates stuck with him, his friends and family too; refs and coaches spoke up for Gareth Thomas the athlete as well as for Gareth Thomas the man. True sportsmanship is alive and well. It is in Britain, anyhow, at least in Rugby.

And in America, in what we think of as the really big sports––baseball, football, and basketball––in the three branches of American sport (sorry hockey and soccer) do we not have one gay athlete? Does anyone believe that? Shame on us indeed. Basketball’s John Amaechi came out––after he retired. There are gay retired football and baseball players too, so did there used to be gay athletes but there aren’t any right now? Right. Amaechi felt he “had to wait.” Perhaps. He says he still receives threats, and that’s not sportsmanlike at all. Maybe it’s unfair to expect Mr. Amaechi to have been the one to take the risk, to be the first. Oh, and he played in the US but he’s British, in case you didn’t know.

Right now the four branches of America’s armed forces are filling out surveys about their feelings on repealing ‘don’t ask–don’t tell,’ about their feelings on the secrets kept by the men and women serving beside them, about their feelings on their fellows who suffer the same hardships, take the same risks, and, if they are good at impersonating straight men and women, get the same opportunities. This then is a good time to ask the three branches of American sport if they are being completely truthful when they say it’s the sport, the sportsmanship, the humanity, the integrity, the honesty that matter.

Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga behaved like real men in the tough situation that confronted them, and I give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that were a player to admit he was gay they would behave the same way, with humanity, integrity and grace. I believe their sportsmanship would prevail over any other feelings and I hope they will help their fellow umpires and athletes by saying so before the fact. Gareth Thomas said, “I’m proud of who I am. I feel I have achieved everything I could ever possibly have hoped to achieve out of rugby, and I did it being gay.” Oh, and if no one in baseball, football, or basketball has the guts of Gareth Thomas? Here’s your chance soccer and hockey to be first. You could have the first real man in American Sport.

5 Responses to “American Sport: Straight and Narrow, but are there any Real Men?”
  1. Steve says:

    Well thought out, and very well presented commentary on society and of course sports. The problem of course goes alot deeper than an umpire not getting villified for making a mistake. But isn’t it amazing how “proud” we all are (and I too was impressed with the extremely classy way the situation was handled) of Gallarga, and in fairness Jim Leyland, the team manager, for doing the right thing? Ya gotta love it!

  2. Clare Keller says:

    I never read blogs, but I’m glad I read this one, and will return. Where else can I get so much news in a sane and thoughtful commentary?

  3. saida says:

    dear duncun we just get the chance to say hello to you and roger from europe.
    ciao ciao
    antonio e saida

  4. Fred Stewart says:

    Important conclusions well delivered. Deserves to be on more than a blog!

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