Sports In Briefs

Sports rants from an industry exec who maintains the passion of a fan

Archive for February 2010

Johnny Damon Blew It

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Johnny Damon how Sox fans remember him - if they choose to

Johnny Damon blew it.

And not by signing with the Detroit Tigers a few days ago. That was just more fallout.

No, Damon blew it in December 2005, when he agreed to sign a free agent contract with the New York Yankees.

Let me start by saying this: I’m a Boston Red Sox fan, but this isn’t a fan’s rant about how Damon turned his back on Red Sox Nation to join its most hated rival. The thought never really crossed my mind.

This is simply a practical look at a short-sighted decision made by Damon and his camp four years ago, one that will haunt him for years.

The Red Sox were a year removed from a miraculous World Series title when Damon’s four-year contract concluded. Of course, this wasn’t just any World Series championship, and in New England, it wasn’t just any miracle. This was the championship that ended “The Curse,” the victory that soothed years of heartbreak, the title that had eluded generations. That the Red Sox downed the hated Yankees in a first-of-its-kind comeback only made the win that much sweeter.

It was won by a team of personalities. Manny was being Manny, Big Papi was clutch, and Bronson Arroyo was in cornrows. Curt Schilling was forging a legend with his bloody sock when he could pull himself away from calling in to local radio shows.

Damon was one of those leading personalities. Popular in the clubhouse and the stands, his moniker for the team – “The Idiots” – was embraced by Red Sox fans everywhere. But he was more than just long hair and a caveman beard. Batting leadoff, he finished in the AL top ten in hits, walks, and runs. His two home runs, one a grand slam, helped clinch Game 7 of the ALCS and seal the history-making series against the Yankees.

Had Damon never done another thing in his life, he would have been revered in Boston and throughout New England. He could have retired on the spot and made a living doing endorsements, signing autographs, and simply being Johnny Damon.

I grew up outside Philadelphia, and I remember Tug McGraw. Tugger was a Philadelphia institution after he retired, appearing in commercials and getting a regular gig with a local TV station. He was everywhere – and Tug never even won a World Series! Imagine the life Damon would have had!

But Damon wanted to keep playing. I don’t begrudge him for that. In fact, he wanted to keep playing for a while, more than the three years the Red Sox were offering. Scott Boras, Damon’s agent, was asking for five years or more. With the Boston front office in relative disarray after the resignation of Theo Epstein, Boras wasn’t getting it. The Yankees swooped in and offered four years. What was a guy to do?

Damon did the unthinkable.

Just months after famously saying, “I could never player for the Yankees,” Damon was looking for a barber so he could conform to New York’s dress code. He said about his decision, “They [the Yankees] showed they really wanted me… I tried with Boston.” And then, in classic Damon fashion: “I wasn’t quite sure what happened.”

To a fan base where the Red Sox are religion, Damon’s desertion was blasphemous. Discussions of years and dollars did nothing to explain away the betrayal, even in this modern age of sports as a business.

Red Sox fans weren't shy when Damon returned to Fenway

When Damon returned to Fenway Park as a Yankee in May the following season, he was met with an outpouring of vitriol that only Judas would have known, had he ever played center field. Red Sox fans made it quite clear to Damon that they didn’t want him anymore, ever.

Fast forward four years to the end of his Yankee contract. Damon is richer, and he won a world series in New York. Still, I imagine he’s come to the private realization that it was nothing like the title in Boston. It was historic in that it was a championship, but it wasn’t an achievement that changed the psyche of city, if not an entire region. It’ll get him invited back for Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium, but he’ll be just a role player, not a marquee attraction.

This off-season, Boras bungled Damon’s negotiations and misinterpreted the market for his client. He kept Damon in the news in all the wrong ways until the sad merry-go-round stopped with the Tigers. Detroit was “where I wanted to be, from Day 1,” said Damon. Really? I mean, really?

In watching all of this unfold, and reading Damon’s comment, I couldn’t help but think. If there were a place Damon should have always been able to return, a ballpark that always should have welcomed him, it was Fenway Park. Whether his trademark locks were flowing as he rounded third or he crept across the grass with the aid of a walker, Damon would have always been at home with Red Sox fans.

I could picture Damon throwing out first pitches for years, visiting the Sox television booth to offer absolutely nothing of substance but a smile and fond memories. He’d be doing commercials for products he couldn’t comprehend and companies he couldn’t pronounce. No one would care.

When Damon passed away, we would have wistfully recalled a season that changed anyone who experienced it. We’d have talked about the man who bestowed upon us “The Idiots.” We would have recalled a grand slam that, by then, we’d probably say actually left Yankee Stadium.

Instead, he’s just that guy who played center field before Coco Crisp. And he has no one to blame but himself.


Written by sportsinbriefs

February 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Rivalry Day – Pressure, Hate, and Too Much Talent

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A few thoughts two-thirds of the way through Rivalry Day in Winter Olympic hockey…

Zach Parise & Ryan Kesler celebrate

Intensity: I have watched hockey all my life, and never have I seen an entire period played with the emotion shared by both the Americans and Canadians in the first period Sunday night. In fact, the first twenty minutes reminded me of the opening round of “The War” between Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns in 1985.

The two squads delivered an opening period of preliminary round action with a fire that is usually reserved for the final minutes of a gold medal or decisive Stanley Cup game. That the pace and intensity didn’t waver for the full twenty minutes was mesmerizing.

The teams did more than bestow upon us some tremendous hockey, though. They reinforced two points:

1) The Americans are not here just to build experience for the next Olympics. Many of the familiar names are gone from Team USA, leaving fans to think this year’s young squad was acquiring experience to make it more of a force the next time around. Not so. With goalie Ryan Miller standing on his head, veterans playing like leaders, and young stars proving they belong, the United States may just have a chance.

2) The Canadians are feeling the pressure. Team Canada entered the tournament as one of the gold-medal favorites, hoping to become the first host nation to win hockey gold since the U.S. in 1980. Canada eked out a shootout win against Switzerland, a victory in the standings but a loss to the nation’s hockey-mad fans. The team knew it needed a win to not only gain a bye into the quarterfinals but to stave off the growing doubts, and they played with that desperation.

The biggest question for the Americans is whether they can maintain this intensity into knockout play. It’s very possible they may have peaked too soon, with the possibility of a letdown after an emotional victory. It’s a risk with such a young team.

A day off to get angry – at themselves, at each other, at their expectations, whatever – is a good prescription for a Canadian squad that now has to play into the quarterfinals. I would hate to be their next opponent. On the other hand, I would hate to be player wearing a maple leaf if this team doesn’t figure it out, and soon.

It’s possible to be too talented. Nearly every player in the NHL has exceptional hockey skills, and they can all do wonderful things with the puck. But being a great player means knowing when to do the simple things. It’s like being able to do a 360 dunk, but knowing when a layup is appropriate.

Unfortunately, I noticed more than a few times during the Canada-USA game when players attempted the extra pass or a fancy play when the simple option was the right one.

I can’t say whether it’s the desire to create that highlight-reel goal – the so-called “SportsCenter effect” – or if it’s the result of having so much talent on the ice.

Case in point: Sidney Crosby passed to Rick Nash from six feet in front of the goal; Nash was cutting to the post, blanketed by a defender, while Crosby had space enough for a clear shot on goal. It would have been a picture-perfect goal, and had Nash been able to bury it (he shot the puck through the crease) we’d all be talking about Crosby’s vision and Nash’s finishing ability. The appropriate play was for Crosby to put the puck on net; the odds are much better that he scores, or that a crashing Nash deposits the rebound.

Yes, you could say I am being overly critical or that I’m reading too much into one play. But the fact is that it happened more than just once, and this was the play that was the shining example to me.

When everyone on the ice is an all-star, playing on an international stage, the urge sometimes is to create a play that isn’t there. If you have the skill to make that happen, the impulse can be blinding. But the great players know how to let the game come to them. The heroes from these Olympics will be the players who realize a great play might make SportsCenter, but the right plays will be remembered for years.

Patriotism trumps team loyalty. Every player for Canada and the USA plays in the NHL, and the entire Olympic tournament is full of NHL players. But for these two weeks, those NHL teams are just backstory for fans, like where players went to school or played junior hockey.

It’s an extension of my philosophy that when the Olympics arrive, I hate everyone. During the Games, all that matters is your flag.

Marleau, Heatley and Thornton are Canadians right now - not Sharks

Fans of the San Jose Sharks are probably very proud that their line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley remains intact as key cog for Team Canada. But I imagine Silicon Valley was happy the trio couldn’t muster a victory over the Americans Sunday night.

The same holds true for fans all over the hockey world. While it would be nice for your favorite players to make a splash at the Olympics, you don’t want to see it happen at the expense of your country.

As a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, I’m excited that captain Mike Richards and defenseman Chris Pronger are in the Games. But it wasn’t until late in the third period, when the Americans had a 4-2 lead, that my mind turned to those Flyers.

“Richards could score a goal right now, get on the scoresheet and the U.S. could still win,” I thought. That notion was quickly discarded when Sidney Crosby scored a power play goal to close to within 4-3.

Interestingly, there’s an opposite effect as well. As a Flyers fan, I have a special distaste for the New York Rangers. But when Chris Drury scored to put the Americans ahead 3-2, he was momentarily forgiven his sin of being Rangers captain.

That Team USA jersey can mend a lot of fences. Well, temporarily, at least.

In a week, I can go back to loving Richards and Pronger, and shuddering at the mere mention of Drury’s name. But in the meantime… well, you know how I think.

Final thoughts:

Aside from Miller, the player who stood out most in the Canada-USA game was Nash. He was an absolute beast out there. He threw his weight around like a man playing pee-wee hockey, and he showed elite stick skills. As a Flyers fan in Texas, I don’t get to see Nash very often. For hockey’s sake, either Columbus has to become a contender, or Nash needs to find his way to a better team.

Alex Ovechkin can be the Tasmanian Devil of hockey, and no one knows that better today than Jaromir Jagr. Ovechkin’s open-ice pasting of Jagr was a thing of beauty, especially since it directly led to a goal. Even without the puck, he can be a dominating player.

Written by sportsinbriefs

February 22, 2010 at 12:51 am

The Winter Olympics, And Why I Hate Everyone Now

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The flame was lit in Vancouver... eventually

The Winter Olympics are under way. I know, I know, you may not have known had it not been for all the Olympic-themed commercials hitting the airwaves. And maybe missing the beginning of the games wasn’t a bad thing for you; after all, the games were awarded to Vancouver in 2003, yet in the ensuing six and a half years, the organizing committee couldn’t figure out how to make all four trap doors work so they could light things on fire.

One of the most common phrases these next two weeks is going to be “Olympic spirit.” Friends and foes will live together in the Olympic Village and compete as equals in Olympic events. Fans from different worlds will sit side-by-side in the stands and cheer their heroes to gold.

The Olympics, they say, bring us all together.

I heartily disagree. When the Olympics come around, I can’t help but dislike everyone else in the world equally.

Yep. There, I said it.

I live in the United States and I want to see our athletes win everything, whether that’s reasonable or not. I am not going to be consoled by the thought that the British athlete who won is a friend of ours, or that the gold medal triumph of some skier from Uzbekistan is a great story.

When another anthem plays, it means we lost.

In everyday life, friends are friends, foes are foes, and the Swiss are neither. But in an event invites the entire world to compete, it just stands to reason that the entire world is now a foe.

I’m not being childish about it, I’m just rooting for the Americans. I will cheer heartily for our athletes and I will celebrate our victories. I believe the Olympic ideal is wonderful, with events such as these in which everyone can compete and find glory.

I’ll just save my cheering for American glory. The rest will get a nod of acknowledgment… maybe.

One thing I don’t quite understand about the Olympics is timing. We all concede that part of the reasoning for the Olympics is for the participating countries to set aside their differences, gather together in the spirit of competition, and generally all feel warm and fuzzy together.

If that’s the case, why not schedule the Summer Olympics to take place this time of year, and the Winter Olympics when the Summer Games are usually held? If we’re looking for the games to make us feel better just by turning on the TV, seeing the sunshine and 85-degree weather of the Summer Olympics would do me just fine. And when we’re all sweating from near-100% humidity in July, wouldn’t a glimpse of a skier throwing some powder give us the right kind of chills?

It’s not like summer in February and winter in July is a crazy notion – after all, that’s what the entire southern hemisphere experiences. And since 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere, the change would serve the vast majority of the world’s people.

Hey, at a time when it seems Vancouver is the only place north of the Rio Grande River that is struggling to accumulate snow, it’s just a suggestion.

The next two weeks will be filled not only with the events we know – hockey, figure skating, skiing – but also some sports that I struggle to wrap my brain around. The first one of those is the biathlon, which started awarding medals today.

What exactly is the purpose of the biathlon? I know, when you boil it all down, there really isn’t much logic to most sports. But the biathlon pairs two seemingly unrelated activities in cross country skiing and shooting stuff. Participants ski for a while, stop and shoot at targets, ski more, shoot more, etc.

I get it, it’s difficult to ski your hardest, settle your body, breathe easy, and shoot a rifle at a target. And I don’t begrudge those that train for years to become the best in the world at their chosen event.

But there are lots of activities that are difficult when paired together. Juggling while riding a unicycle is not particularly easy, but I have yet to see the IOC hand out medals to a Ringling Brothers clown. If we’re looking to combine the practical with the dangerous, why not speed skating and bear wrestling comes to mind. What is the summer equivalent, the 5,000 meter/blindfolded knife-throwing relay?

Flowers and a note mark the site of Kumaritashvili's death

On a more somber note, we are all well aware of the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday.

We are bound to hear debate about access to the track for practice runs. Is the world’s fastest track too fast?

I know nothing about the luge, except that it looks like bobsledding without the bobsled. My questions, therefore, are less technical and more practical.

My first thought is, why is it necessary for there to be support posts so close to a straightaway, especially coming out of a fast corner? Whatever they’re supporting, can’t it be pushed back, even if just ten feet? Some sort of buffer zone between the track and any obstructions simply seems like common sense to me.

If the support posts absolutely have to be there, why leave them naked and exposed? Those posts should be padded. I just can’t think of any practical reason why they were not protected. Maybe the padding wouldn’t do much for a luger flying out of control at more than 85 mph. But if they do enough to stave off that athlete’s death, isn’t that enough?

I’m no sports architect, and I have never been to a luge track. I have no idea if these design elements are the norm or if they’re unusual. I’m sure organizers have very valid answers to all of these questions, but in light of this tragedy, how truly valid are those answers?

Responsible parties have taken some steps in the last 24 hours. The posts are now being padded. The pads look like they were borrowed from a sixth-grade gymnastics class, but at least it’s something.

A wooden barrier has been erected to hopefully contain any athlete who flies off the track in a similar manner. The starting points for the luge have also been adjusted, which should help cut down speeds at the bottom of the track.

Kumaritashvili was remembered at the opening ceremonies, where flags were lowered to half-staff and a moment of silence was held. The small Georgian delegation, every member adorned in a black armband, received a sustained applause as well.

I would imagine the Georgians will become the sympathetic favorites for the remainder of the Winter Olympics, receiving polite applause from the international fans. Should a Georgian win a medal, it will make a heartwarming story.

I might even applaud during the Georgian national anthem.

Then again, maybe just a nod.

Written by sportsinbriefs

February 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Briefs Bits

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Mark Cuban

Word out of Dallas is that Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, is interested in owning part of the NHL’s Dallas Stars. He insists his interest is simply as a money guy, and he wouldn’t dedicate the same passion nor would he become as involved in the hockey operation as he has with the Mavs. But don’t think of this as a power play for Cuban to assemble a Dallas sports conglomerate. This is really a case of the maverick owner protecting his own interests. The Stars share the American Airlines Center with the Mavericks, and the new Stars owner will also take on a 50% ownership stake in the arena. Getting a seat on the Stars’ side of the table allows him to protect his interests with the Mavs and ensure there is no power play between the two organizations. Moreover, should he join in purchasing the Stars, expect Cuban to insist on a right of first refusal clause should there be another change in Stars ownership – once again, for protection. This would give him the power to buy out the Stars if it looks like they could fall into the hands of someone that would be counter to Cuban’s interests.

Despite the strictly financial motivation, it would be nice for the NHL to have Cuban in the fold. He would learn the game, express a passion, and maybe even generate a greater share of the public consciousness for the Stars.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Indianapolis Colts were the NFL’s equivalent of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (when the Spurs were winning titles), in that both were machinelike winners. After the Colts’ dramatic loss to the New Orleans Saints last weekend, I am beginning to wonder if Indianapolis is actually more akin to MLB’s Atlanta Braves. The Braves won their division 11 straight years and 14 out of 15 seasons from 1991 to 2005. Similarly, the Colts have reached the postseason eight consecutive times and ten of the last 11 years. The Braves were led by businesslike stars who dominated the game, not unlike the Colts of recent vintage. Yet despite the way both teams re-wrote the record books, they each managed to win only one championship: Atlanta in 1995, and the Colts three years ago. (It could also be argued that both teams won their titles against opponents that weren’t exactly championship-worthy, but that’s another story.) If the Colts rebound and capture another Super Bowl in the next few years, this analogy will fade away, but until then, it’s a growing albatross around the neck of Peyton Manning and the entire Indianapolis organization.

Did you know the Winter Olympics get under way tomorrow?! It very well could be me, but there seems to be a distinctly ho-hum attitude about the Winter games. Let me begin by saying that I like the Olympics; I’m a die-hard hockey fan, and I enjoy the Olympic hockey tournament whether or not the Americans make a good showing. But this iteration of the Winter Olympics feels like it’s being fed to the public more than being anxiously consumed by us. We’re being confronted by profiles of hopeful American athletes in an effort to get viewers emotionally invested in their quest. I don’t know if it’s working with anyone else, but I’m more interested in watching a Dorito’s commercial than yet another Apolo Ohno tear-jerker. Maybe it’s because the U.S. is not considered favorites in some high-profile events. Perhaps the rise of the Saints will doom even the Olympics to a secondary story. I’m sure the excitement and interest will pick up come Friday’s opener, but right now, I’m just not all in… yet.

Written by sportsinbriefs

February 11, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Why You Should Care About Brendan Burke

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Brendan Burke, seen here in a family photo after his father captured the Stanley cup as GM of the Anaheim Ducks.

Brendan Burke died Friday.

Never heard of him? Maybe I should rephrase it in a way that you might better recognize him.

One of six children of Brian Burke, president and general manager of the most valuable hockey franchise in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and GM of the United States hockey team for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Brendan Burke died Friday.

For those who have heard of Brendan, you likely would have best understood this:

Brendan Burke, the openly gay son of Brian Burke, died Friday.

And unfortunately, that is what made Friday’s tragic event newsworthy.

I’ve never met Brendan, never knew him personally. Like most people, I only became aware of him when ESPN’s John Buccigross wrote a moving piece about Brendan in November.

With the Buccigross story, Brendan became a household name. His father, one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in hockey, showed his softer side. The University of Miami hockey team, led by coach Enrico Blasi, became a haven for open-mindedness and inclusion.

The article also made Brendan a question-in-waiting, namely: Will the hockey establishment be able to accept an openly gay man? Brendan was a manager of the RedHawks hockey team, but he was also planning to attend law school, with the hope of working in an NHL front office like his father.

Whether or not Brendan would have been able to craft a career in hockey will never go answered, though I’m inclined to say he would have. The issue prompts the natural follow-up, though: Would hockey, or any major league-level team sport, accept an openly gay man?

The immediate reaction to the Buccigross story on Brendan was that the NHL would accept him. Hockey, people reasoned, was more grounded and open than the other “Big Four” sports. Besides, he had Brian Burke on his side, a regular on The Hockey News list of the most powerful people in hockey.

But would an openly gay man survive as an active player in a team sport? It’s an astonishingly divisive question, if only because of the variety of answers and their rationales.

The “We Are The World” answer is, yes, of course. Sports accept athletes from all walks of life, regardless of skin tone, nationality, religion, and upbringing. That may be because at its highest levels, all that matters are results. Put on a uniform, outperform your opponents, and the sport and its fans will forgive anything from racial inconveniences to manslaughter.

Sure, such an athlete will hear it from opposing fans. But that just becomes noise to players, an energizing force whether it supports you or despises you. The media? Once again, that’s an accepted element to being an athlete.

The greatest divide for an openly gay athlete to cross will be with the players themselves. Athletes are stereotypically men’s men, explosive vessels of testosterone waiting to be unleashed upon the opposing team. But being gay is generally observed, especially among the hyper-masculine, as being less than a man. Locker room chatter is littered with derogatory comments about gays, directed towards players or actions that seem less than manly.

Jackie Robinson, left, with his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate, Pee Wee Reese.

In this respect, it’s not altogether unlike the breaking of the color barrier, the influx of athletes from Latin America, and the arrival of European players in the NHL. Negative attitudes were common and locker rooms were divided. But leaders like Pee Wee Reese, who famously put his arm around Jackie Robinson, bridged those barriers and helped make integration possible.

Buccigross wrote about a similar evolution in his article. After Brendan made it known he was gay, the University of Miami locker room changed. The players were not only accepting, but their homophobic chatter even changed. But it’s only one step to adjust locker room language. That is as much as case of being more careful about the timing or audience in which someone uses a term as it is eliminating the term from one’s vocabulary. But when the language changes, the attitude must follow.

There’s an added element to crossing the rainbow divide in team sports, though. Before a locker room becomes a place of team bonding and banter, it serves a functional purpose as a place to change clothes and shower. For players to accept a gay teammate, they have to do more than just accept him on the field or in interviews. They have to become comfortable dropping their, well, guard.

Bob Costas observed this after interviewing former NFL player Esera Tuaolo, who publicly declared that he was gay after his retirement. “It’s a hyper macho atmosphere,” Costas said. “[A] number of players expressed almost Neanderthal views about sharing a locker room with a gay person, and being a teammate with a gay person and what the consequences of that would be.”

Equally as difficult to overcome are the religious or ideological attitudes about homosexuality. The player who believes a gay teammate violates natural law or is doomed to hell might never see him as just a teammate. Players with this attitude may never see the teammate, and instead only focus on these perceived “faults.”

That there would be a gay athlete in a major team sport shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Studies show at least one to several percent of the population is gay; at one percent, that would make for more than three dozen at the major league level of the “Big Four” sports. John Amaechi and Billy Bean, like Tuaolo, have famously “come out” in recent years, though they did so only after their playing careers were over.

The players still became lightning rods. Former NBA guard Tim Hardaway commented that he “wouldn’t want [Amaechi] on his team.”  He added, “I would… really distance myself from him because… I don’t think that’s right. And you know I don’t think he should be in the locker room while we’re in the locker room. I wouldn’t even be a part of that.”

Pat Riley, his former coach with the Miami Heat, replied, “[Hardaway’s attitude] would not be tolerated in our organization.” Riley continued, “That kind of thinking can’t be tolerated. It just can’t.”

That’s not to say that attitudes like Hardaway’s can’t change. The recently passed Bobby Bragan was one of the most outspoken members of the Brooklyn Dodgers, ardently against the arrival of Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball. Then he watched what Robinson went through and the way he handled himself. Historian Steve Treder said Bragan “saw that he’d been wrong all along, that what he’d been taught to believe was nonsense.” He would go on to found the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which every year awards scholarships to dozens of kids in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, regardless of color or creed.

What would it take for an openly gay athlete to find acceptance in a major league team sport, an environment that Costas referred to in this context as one of “hyper-heterosexuality”? Costas observed it would take “a person of guts and commitment to do it.” This thinking isn’t unlike that of Branch Rickey, who searched some time for a player to cross baseball’s color line before he found Robinson. To be more than just a token gesture, Robinson had to be the best athlete that could handle the transition, not simply the best athlete.

Still, it would require talent. Jim Bouton, author of the myth-shattering Ball Four, commented, “The first [openly] gay [MLB] player is going to have to be a good player.” Sports organizations are willing to overlook even the most grievous issues if a player can produce. They will jettison a fringe player that brings them more grief than he may be worth, though.

Bouton made a fine point when he said, “You can’t wait for every single player to accept a gay player.” In fact, 63 years after Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award, you’re likely to still find pockets of bigotry in baseball. 100% acceptance is a fantasy, a practical impossibility, be it acceptance of race, nationality, or sexual orientation. And it’s naive to expect a Bragan-like transformation of every player who opposed a gay athlete.

One fact is quite certain, though. The first openly gay player in a major team sport will always be that, before he is anything else – and he will have to come to grips with it before he ever makes the announcement. Regardless of any awards bestowed or championships won, he will always be the gay athlete that achieved them. Costas opined, in the context of sports, “[A] heterosexual person’s sexuality, generally speaking, becomes just a part of a larger persona… whereas the gay person’s sexuality becomes a definition.”

Which brings us back to Brendan Burke. The 21-year-old was by all accounts an intelligent, thoughtful, passionate man with a bright future. But on this cold Saturday, a day after his passing, we find ourselves discussing this young man not because of his past or his future, but because he was gay.

Someday, maybe someday soon, this won’t be the case.

Written by sportsinbriefs

February 6, 2010 at 7:31 pm