5-2-2013 Coming Out in Softball

COMING OUT IN SOFTBALL

In the wake of Jason Collins telling Sports Illustrated that he is gay, reportedly the first athlete in a major sport to do so while actively playing, and Brittany Griner saying publicly that she is lesbian, Spy has received numerous inquiries about lesbians, gays, bisexuals in softball.

There are – but Spy regards sexual orientation as a very personal matter. 

For numerous reasons, people in all walks of life have confided in me, which enabled me to become a prize-winning journalist as well as an intelligence official who was globally acclaimed for both in-depth knowledge and ability to keep secrets, traits brought with me to Spy, including a narrow definition of the public’s right to know.  As a keeper of the secrets there are details of many international actions which I will carry to the grave.   

Similarly, I have maintained that same standard of the right to know in both my journalism career and into sports reporting.  I had photographic proof a top New York politico was doing the horizontal mambo with the wife of another top NY politico.  Didn’t tell the editors but I did confront the man, gave him the evidence, and urged them to think of their children.  I knew a top diplomat who couldn’t keep her panties on, and a sports mother with 10 children, three sired by men other than her husband.  

Over time, that sense of what people need to divulge is as narrow as a laser beam.  I know and have excellent relationships with several lesbian coaches and players, including their partners, some of them now married. Several are quite public about their relationships, but many are not. I know a player who has come out, as well as a bisexual player who has acknowledged her sexual preferences. 

I have had a very good relationship with Kirk Walker, and much admire him for the frankness and wisdom he shared in The Daily Bruin, which is posted below.  We’ve talked about softball, but also about children.  Kirk is one of the most dedicated parents I know.

What decision they make about their personal lives is theirs alone.  I have never assumed that a lesbian or gay coach was ipso facto a threat to the psychological or social welfare of their players; there have been instances where such sexually-related influence by coaches and even some players has allegedly been disruptive, but, like the occasional heterosexual liaison between coaches and players, they have been few.  If there were such a poll, the odds are great that the percentage of homosexuals in sports , or other categories, approximates the percentage of homosexuals in the general society

Society and social mores have changed.  There has been increasing acceptance of homosexuality; now, there is emerging acceptance of gay marriage.  Prior to World War II, romantic relationships between whites and non-Caucasians, especially blacks, was a crime in many jurisdictions.  Today, I have a great-granddaughter who is black; my family totally accepts her.  My grandfather would disown me.

What I fear has not changed is the prurient, exploitative inclination of so many in our society who have not yet learned the difference between tolerance/acceptance and innate understanding of the human variable.  We will not have crossed the Rubicon until the day when an athlete or any other well-known person declaring their sexual preference is no longer news.  Today, reading some of the comments about Jason, pro and con, I fear the scorn or worse the virtual exile of those who proclaim they are different.  Like Kirk in a recent comment, I am encouraged by some of the supportive statements from the athletic world.  He and others hope more athletes will come out.

But I am not so trusting of the professed good intentions.  How well the future Jasons are treated will be a good measure of the distance our society has progressed.  I have received some negative emails.

There is need for greater tolerances of all our differences – religious, political, racial, educational and sexual.  I do not hold myself up as a paragon of virtue; St Peter and I will have a long discussion about sins I have committed, but being intolerant is not among them.

I grew up in the Jim Crow South.    Some of the catcalls, snide remarks, and baiting comments of youngsters in school were learned at home.  Look at film clips from the riots in the South; their targets were blacks, fueled by fear of blacks voting and exercising political power, but also fear of blacks taking the low-level, menial jobs which for years were the backbone of the Southern economy.  Other reporters and I walked with some of those marchers; we saw the hatred up close and personal.

Less obvious, and seldom on the front page, there was discrimination against Catholics, Jews and homosexuals.  I was fortunate to have educated parents; my father was widely respected for his fairness to all, good qualities in a judge.

But our extended family was not invulnerable to the winds of hatred.  My grandfather disliked Negroes, Catholics, Jews, and his oldest grandson, not necessarily in that order.  I knew discrimination as a Catholic; a man stopped his car to give me a ride home in a blinding snowstorm, but then ordered me out of the car when I removed the scarf, saying he did not allow Catholics in his car. I also suffered fisticuffs because I had that most Prussian of last names during WWII. When I left the cloistered confines of a Catholic convent school, I had an immediate infatuation with a tall brunette who happened to be Baptist.  I knew her sisters and brothers but the father bodily threw me out of the house, yelling angrily his daughter would not be violated by a Catholic.

Violated?  I was all of 12 yrs old when I entered highschool.

The list of subjects which my Mother deemed too sensitive for my ears would paper Yankee Stadium.

That attitude had unfortunate consequences.  My uncle had driven one of George Patton’s tanks throughout Europe, but had considerable post-war difficulty holding jobs.  A marriage disintegrated.  He had two problems.  He was an alcoholic.  He was homosexual.  He lived with us for a short time, then, abruptly, he was gone – and the reasons were somewhere on that list of forbidden topics.  Once when I was in highschool, I missed the bus and went to his apartment; when he called my parents, my father rushed to retrieve me, no explanation given.

The summer after my last semester at Oklahoma, I was living in the YMCA in Oklahoma City (a room destroyed by the blast at the Murrah building).  I got a call from the barkeep at a dive called the Little White Cloud; they found a card in his pocket with my name and phone.  The barkeep informed me that my uncle was not only regularly drunk, but known to hang with a group of homosexuals.  I took him to a medical center with a drunk tank.  A few days later, my father paid his hospital bill, and then explained to me why my grandparents, my Mother and her sister had broken off all communication with my uncle.  He became the family leper.  It wasn’t just the booze; homosexuality was the bar they wouldn’t raise.

I have seen that same rejection throughout my career.  I can also bear witness to a double standard.  The few at State and CIA who knew about my affair with an achingly beautiful Russian ballerina offered a few atta-boy remarks, but State both officially and unofficially tried mightily to prevent homosexuals from entering the diplomatic service, which could be cause for instant dismissal.  Sports writers and others snicker at the alleged sexual exploits of Wilt, Tiger et al and babies spawned by itinerant basketball players.  There is tolerance, as long as the unions are heterosexual.  Jason threatens that double standard.  Hopefully, he will not suffer the personal and financial hurt imposed on Billy Jean King.

Over the years, my uncle would call – different cities, deadbeat jobs.  No one but my father wanted to hear such status reports.  Finally, I received a call from the VA hospital in Detroit.  My uncle had been a night clerk at a third rate hotel when his liver gave out.  The VA offered to conduct a funeral.  I called my Mother and aunt; the attitude was I should deal with the problem.  Given the way they were raised, their response was expected and understood in the context of their lives.

I was the only mourner.  The chaplain asked if I had anything to say.  My reply: he is in a better place than any he knew in life.  Over the years, I occasionally think of him, especially when I hear the song “Vincent.”  I knew a man like that, who was never understood.

Assistant coach teams up with UCLA Athletics, Recreation to promote Ally Week

By Jordan Lee

For UCLA softball assistant coach Kirk Walker, some battles have been bigger than those his team faces at the ballpark.

UCLA is celebrating Ally Week, and Walker, who is openly gay, has been part of the effort put forth by UCLA Athletics and UCLA Recreation to help educate students regarding homophobia and bullying in sports and recreation.

But Walker has not always been as outspoken as he is now. It was not until 2006, when he was the coach at Oregon State, that he publicly disclosed his sexuality.

Walker and his partner were entering the process of adopting a child, and since his sexuality was about to become public, he wanted to be the one to tell his players.

“I don’t remember exactly what my words were because I was very, very nervous. … Immediately (players’) hands went up and all the questions were about the adoption. It was a relatively easy process, very relieving,” Walker said.

Walker’s announcement to his team made him the only publicly out NCAA Division I coach. It is a label he has both struggled with and embraced, fearing people would focus on his sexuality rather than his work. It was not until he received messages of support that he became an activist for LGBT rights.

“I was kind of a reluctant activist in the beginning, the first years I really fought it, I wanted to be known for my ability on the field, my ability as a coach,” Walker said. “I became less reluctant when I realized the impact that it was having.”

Since then, Walker, who graduated from UCLA in 1988 and served as assistant coach until 1994, has returned to UCLA this season to be an assistant under coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.

The team felt his impact immediately – and count Inouye-Perez, who has known Walker since her playing days in high school, among those who are glad to have him back.

“He is very savvy in getting people to understand that everyone should be treated equally and that everyone should be given a fair opportunity,” Inouye-Perez said. “So that in itself is who he is, he truly represents that.”

This past Monday, Walker, in conjunction with UCLA Athletics and UCLA Recreation, held an event for Athlete Ally, an organization which educates athletes, coaches and fans on issues regarding sexual orientation and sports.

“It was just a huge, monumental event for UCLA Athletics in general,” said senior outfielder Devon Lindvall. “Being able to come together as a community and really address the fact that straight, gay or wherever you come from, there is a safe environment.”

Despite the progress Walker has made with events like these, he said there is still work to be done regarding sexuality and sports, and he has called on college athletic departments to take a proactive stance in addressing concerns of lesbian and gay athletes.

He believes UCLA offers the perfect environment to continue progress that has already been made.

“From the days of Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson and breaking down color barriers to the women’s sports involvement in Title IX in the ’70s, UCLA was a leader in the fight for equality,” Walker said. “I think this is another opportunity for UCLA to continue to be a leader in the fight for equality and social change.”

Email Lee at jlee@media.ucla.edu.

 

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