Friday, April 06, 2007

"Black marks" and "isolated incidents"?

Now that the intercollegiate basketball season is over much of the discussion about Pokey Chatman has died down. No more recaps at the start of every game. Or graphics which list the timeline of the "Pokey Chatman incident." When LSU announces its new coach of course these things will be hauled out again but that's to be expected and we will likely have the whole summer and much of the fall to "forget." Phrases like "moving forward" and "looking ahead" will be bandied about at the start of next season and then it will suddenly "all be behind us."
Because this is being treated as a singular event. Well actually, Pokey Chatman and Rene Portland are being spoken of in the same breath: two incidents, but both, if you believe what you read, anomalies.
A recent Hartford Courant article frames the two stories as one comment on homosexuality. And though the writer acknowledges the difference between the two situations, comments from others clearly show that somehow these events are intricately linked.
The links I see? Homophobia is still rampant in intercollegiate sport despite the emergence of a younger, more accepting generation; and people are still trying to pretend it does not exist.
Anne Donovan, coach of the national team and the Seattle Storm, calls the "gay issue" a "black mark" on the women's game which proponents of the game will have to continue to battle. ESPN commentator Doris Burke suggests that it is an excuse for some male fans not to watch but that real fans know the LSU and Penn State situations are "isolated incidents."
The level of denial is frightening and discouraging. Neither was an isolated incident. Coaches--both male and female--have been engaging in inappropriate relationships with athletes for a long time. The dynamics and contexts are certainly different when we are talking about heterosexual relationship versus a same-sex (male or female) but they both happen and most are never revealed.
And while most coaches these days are smarter than Portland--they don't go announcing their no-lesbian policy to the press--too many still engage in more subtle homophobic practices in recruiting and dealing with players.
And none of it is going to stop just because some people close their eyes and plug their ears and start to hum. Because lesbians play sports. And they coach sports. And Sheryl Swoopes is not the only lesbian in the WBNA. And I am not the only person who knows this. Even the people who don't want to hear it know. All those men who don't watch women's basketball--they are not going to start when the "gay issue" dies down. They will just find another reason not to watch.
People in and around women's basketball need to change the discourse. They need to accept and celebrate their gay athletes--not tolerate them or offer, like the WNBA did when Swoopes came out, a statement that sexuality and a player's personal life does not matter. Clearly it does or we would not have people like Rene Portland and the other people just like her who just haven't been caught.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Calling these incidents "isolated" is outrageous. I'm ready for some more coaches to be called out. It is an open secret in these parts who the LSU coaches are who got away with multiple student relationships while Chatman had to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad homophobia's impact on sports is gettng talked about.

Pat Griffin (author of "Strong Women, Deep Closets) has a blog called "It Takes a Team !" She's got some thought-provoking posts about women's sports and lesbians.

Anonymous said...

BEING GAY IS NOT A BLACK MARK. Being gay is okay! Look for daily women's sports coverage starting soon on

ken said...

Thanks, Scamp. I have Griffin's site and blog linked.
And anon.--I am very excited that afterellen is starting sports coverage. I will definitely check it out. Thanks for passsing on that information.