Prior to graduating in 1991 as a starting defensive lineman for McComb High School with a 4.02 GPA, I was nominated by Governor Ray Mabus of Mississippi to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The academics and athletics were all there — but my mindset wasn’t. Since I was struggling with my attraction to men at the time, I figured I’d never be able to achieve my fullest potential there, because I was gay.
Fast forward nearly 25 years later, if I were a senior at McComb High School in Mississippi today, I still wouldn’t go to Annapolis. Why? A young, black gay kid from Mississippi just wouldn’t fit in. Period.
Now that our first openly gay professional football player has been scurried away out of the U.S. to play in another country, there still exist no openly gay male athlete in team/contact sports in North America.
After a colorful dialogue on SiriusXM last Sunday with Billy Bean, the former LA Dodgers who came out publicly as gay over 15 years ago, I’ve come to realize that Mr. Bean has somewhat of a challenging position as an MLB Inclusion Ambassador. He’s employed by an organization that represents “America’s Pastime.” Despite the sport’s waning popularity, baseball is still the All-American Sport and its culture goes hand-in-hand with hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. With his task of helping to usher in an environment that welcomes inclusivity, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, Bean has a very corporate approach to this role in light of the culture that baseball represents. His work is certainly important and commended but I’m not sure if significant policies and regulations will stem from a role that could aid in leveraging gay rights in the face of conservative values and viewpoints – quite similar to those recently revealed by New York Mets‘ third baseman, Daniel Murphy.
Back in March, Murphy, a devout Christian, said he “disagreed with ‘the [gay] lifestyle’ 100%.” But interestingly enough, this conversation wasn’t initiated by Bean himself. If it weren’t for an NJ.com reporter who sought out Murphy for his reaction to a recent dugout visit from Bean, we would’ve never known how Murphy really felt towards gay people. Unfortunately, the Mets organization have now silenced Murphy, unless media chat is related to baseball.
For my SiriusXM radio show, THE OUTFIELD, the world’s first-ever sports talk radio show for the LGBT community, it’d be great to hear more from the Daniel Murphys of sports – those individuals who believe that being gay is still a “lifestyle.”
I’m certainly not looking to force gay athletes out of the closet on this show. In fact, I understand their concern of having no desire of being an activist for the community. Many of them simply want to just play the sport that they love! Rather, I’m looking to encourage more dialogue with folks who (sub)consciously push these closeted players deeper into the closet.
There should be more open, honest and respectful dialogue with those who talk or think negatively about gays and lesbians – whether it be social, economic, athletic, religiously-based or business-related.
Unfortunately, many of these individuals won’t speak up or even identify themselves. Why? Perhaps they’re fearful of being ostracized. Maybe they don’t want to get called out on social media or lose their jobs or their paycheck if they say the wrong thing. Or maybe they’re looking to avoid public outcry or protest of their sports teams (or businesses) they represent.
But here’s the thing: Why should they speak up!?
The mere silence of closeted athletes prove their point on a daily basis. The silence of a closeted college coach, who desires to publicly come out but can’t because of workplace policy issues at a religious institution, speaks volumes. The silence of the closeted community offers up ammunition for the conservative value’s cause. Despite whatever reason these individuals remain in the closet, their silence continues to perpetuate a perception of shame – a perception that being a gay male pro athlete is unacceptable and homosexuality doesn’t belong in professional team (contact or combat) sports.
This sports atmosphere of silent rejection led to enormous anxiety for me and it was the primary reason why I didn’t attend the Naval Academy in 1991. And I wouldn’t consider playing football there now if I were a high school senior, even with today’s continued evolution of same-sex marriage underway. Childhood stories from a recent former Naval Academy athlete, Garrett Snoeyenbos, are very similar to my experiences as a kid over 30 years ago.
Sports pundits have appeared on THE OUTFIELD and have suggested that standards for gay athletes be raised in order for them to be truly considered worthy of professional play. Sure, it’s inaccurate to compare Michael Sam to the likes of a Jackie Robinson; but according to critics, you damn well better BE a Jackie Robinson, if you plan on being an openly gay player in this day and age. So what kind of message does that send to gay or bisexual college/pro athletes? Does it still smell a bit discriminating?
Diversity agents like Billy Bean, Wade Davis, gay sports initiatives like: You Can Play, GO! Athletes and Athlete Ally – are these groups and individuals communicating with one another? Are they transferring knowledge with each other, relying too heavily on social media? What about sharing experiences with those who might be homophobic or may not subscribe to their viewpoints? Can a conservative Chicago Blackhawks hockey player or homophobic NFL sports agent learn something from a Billy Bean testimonial in Florida? What if an intramural league that’s part of the ‘You Can Play’ Project invites a Sunday school teacher or a scout troop leader to a gay rugby match on a Saturday morning? Perhaps they could play on the team (if he’s good enough, of course).
A perfectly conducive and welcoming environment that’s inclusive for all gay athletes probably won’t happen. We may never reach that balanced level of acceptance or that perfect comfort zone for a closeted player to come out in popular American team sports. But I believe that an honest, genuine dialogue or a respectful exchange of viewpoints still needs to take place between conservatives and those affiliated with the gay sports movement. That way, everyone learns something about each other instead of these experiences, talks and testimonials taking place behind closed doors or behind people’s backs.
Some of us may be gay, some of us may be straight, some of us might be questioning. But at the end of the day, we are all HUMAN. I think in order to visualize future male, openly gay pro athletes (with skills or lack thereof), the journey of building bridges requires everyone’s involvement and insight – regardless of a person’s orientation or race or religion or whether they live in the South or in the Midwest.
Imagine heightened competition when all athletes can finally perform at their very best, knowing that their teammates, their bosses, the player’s agent and sports fans have their support despite differences in beliefs and viewpoints.
In the wake of steroid doping, global corruptions, scandals and deflated balls, what kind of future do YOU want for American sports and athleticism?
Writer/novelist and gay poet, James Baldwin, put it best:
“The future is like heaven – everyone exalts it, but no one wants to go there now.”
Tune in to “THE OUTFIELD,” live every Sunday from 11a-1p EST on SiriusXM’s OutQ, Channel 106.
Earlier this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper spoke with NFL Network Host, Rich Eisen, about former University of Missouri lineman, Michael Sam. The star defensive end stands the chance of entering the NFL as the league’s first openly gay player. Eisen, along with countless other sports pundits, continue to react to this story with the same sound-byte: “It doesn’t matter if he’s gay, can he help a team win football games?”
Do you honestly think Sam wants to get on a professional league team to help them LOSE a game? It’s like asking, “Can a straight guy play on a gay rugby league and win matches for them?” Of course he can! In fact, I’d go as far to say that countless (closeted) gay athletes have already won hundreds of games for dozens of NFL teams.
Instead, Tapper should have asked questions to sports insiders like, “Who ARE those “anonymous NFL sources” — those personnel managers — who seem to always say “the organization is not ready for a gay player?” Who are those sports agents who insist on telling their clients/free agents not to disclose the fact that they’re gay? What teams specifically would Sam be the best fit for? Then start booking those NFL coaches and players. Why avoid sports talk of a prospective NFL football player who’s openly gay?
Think about it: with all the speeches in NFL locker rooms from coaches during pre- and post- games about being a leader, stepping up to challenges, facing adversity both on and off the field, and having intestinal fortitude “to win football games” — then coaches, why not show up as an example to your own team and speak up about recruiting an openly gay football player for your organization! Or… stand firm on your convictions and discuss why you oppose having someone gay on your team! We all know coaches want to win football games. So media, start switching the “circus” energy off the gay players and direct it more towards coaches and personnel managers and ownership.
In addition, media should start questioning Missouri college football players and ask them what led this team to trust the character and leadership of Michael Sam, despite his sexual preference. I’m sure within their locker room, jokes were made and bare-butts were towel-slapped. But at the end of the day, those Missouri players realized the importance of creating a strong team dynamic — a dynamic so powerful that it led Michael Sam to becoming a 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
So what DOES it really take to win football games!? I think it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
In other words, it takes a ton of mental toughness to compete within any level of sport. When an athlete is closeted, much of that mental capacity is lost and it shows both on and off the field. Being mentally prepared is key. When anyone comes out of the closet, there’s a sense of renewal. Those inner voices [i.e., you’ll lose your paycheck, you’ll be let go from the team, you’ll never play in any sport ever again, etc.] are all destroyed almost instantly. A person finally begins to see and play the sport with clarity and understanding. He becomes physically able to compete at their highest level of potential — to quote en quote: “win football games.”
I’m not worried about Michael Sam. He’s already done his part and come out as gay — acknowledging and embracing himself as a openly gay black man who loves the sport of football. Sam knows what it takes to win games and I’m sure he’ll let his performance speak for itself during NFL Combine and other training camps. His draft stock may very well be declining as a result of coming out, but on so many other levels, he’s already won. Arguably, he has more courage than some of the NFL coaches he’s out to woo.
Nevertheless, with each American professional team sports association of hockey, basketball, football, and baseball, there STILL exists no openly gay active athlete in this country. The NBA certainly came close with Jason Collins almost a year ago. So will the NFL be next up and turn on the closet light switch? Perhaps we’ll find out come May.
By the way, thanks to all of you for listening to ‘THE OUTFIELD‘ — the test radio sports talk show which aired on SiriusXM’s Out Q in October of 2013. The show was a complete success and also received phone callers during the broadcast! So moving forward, I need your help… If you think a gay sports radio show would work on the channel, contact SiriusXM now and voice your opinion.
“I think it’s homophobic to have your policy on anything gay be avoidance. And that’s what I think happens a lot in sports radio. They’re not necessarily gay bashing, but they just avoid it. By purposely or consciously staying away from topics that should be talked about, you’re as bad as the people who gay bash.”
– Chuck Booms, straight comedian and former co-host of Fox Sports Radio’s Kiley & Booms
This Monday, October 7th at 2PM EST, SiriusXM Satellite Radio will make history.
Introducing the first ever nationwide sports talk radio show highlighting news headlines and athletic culture of the LGBT community. THE OUTFIELD will be the first broadcast to offer up an exclusive, inclusive sports talk radio format designed by and for gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, closeted athletes; those who’ve broken barriers in the military, as well as gay sports fans across the world – both young and old!
The show will also cater to those who, while they may not be gay, are interested in learning more about how sports is integrated into experiences and perspectives of the gay and lesbian community. THE OUTFIELD will have a resounding impact on (closeted) young gay players in sports and older athletes who might be struggling with issues of ‘coming out’ or acceptance in general.
Tune in this Monday afternoon, October 7th, at 2PM EST as SiriusXM presents a Special Premiere of “THE OUTFIELD,” hosted by yours truly, Eddie Robinson. SiriusXM’s OutQ – Channel 109. [Free SiriusXM Trial]
Guests will include four-time Olympian and international sports lawyer, Cameron Myler; NFL Punter and Equal Rights Activist, Chris Kluwe; and former ESPN Radio Sportscaster, Jared Max.
Please spread the word, listen, and call into the show to say HELLO!
…And remember: Athletes Stand OUT!
Disclosure is the latest UK import consisting of brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, ages 19 and 22 respectively. What’s so fascinating about them is the fact they’re so soulful… and so young! Plus, they’ve only released one album and have already garnered thousands of fans nationwide, both young AND old!
Last night, I attended NYC’s sold-out SummerStage Concert at Central Park and the British duo rocked Tuesday night partygoers! Even the event’s co-headliners, TNGHT — a bass-driven, electronic duo — put on a spectacular show! Disclosure and TNGHT soundcloud links below.
Once the concert ended, an older gentleman comes up to me and says that he’s a big fan of Disclosure. His favorite song is ‘Latch.’ He goes on to say that he appreciates this track because it’s more reminiscent of R&B music back in the late ’70s, early ’80s — it’s emotional, passionate, and just down-right soulful.
I would agree — and add that Disclosure’s sound is extremely clean, polished, and even somewhat spiritual, especially when you hear songs like, “Latch,” “Help Me Lose My Mind,” and “Boiling.” It’s like these two Brit Brothers remind me of the R&B funk-sibling-duo, The Brothers Johnson! When I hear their latest album, “Settle,” it reminds me of those 8-track cartridge grooves from the Brothers Johnson like, “Streetwave,” “Light Up The Night,” and “The Real Thing.”
Featured vocalists also appeared on stage with Disclosure, including smooth crooner, Sam Smith and singer, Jessie Ware, who upon viewing her performance I immediately thought I was watching a movie sequel to ‘Krush Groove‘ with her amazing, mid-80’s like presence! From 50-plus-year-old investment brokers; Mobb Deep/Rick Ross fans; to 30-something marketing agents, architects, and account executives — everyone had been dancing with everyone before the night ended!! What a spirit-filled evening!
This show was definitely a highlight of my summer. And after meeting the guys backstage, I’m sure Disclosure thinks performing in front of a NYC sold-out audience on a beautiful, picture-perfect, Central Park evening is something they’ll never forget as well!
This weekend, 5-time Grammy-award winner Terence Blanchard presents his most prolific work to date. He’s already scored over 50 films to his credit — most recently the World War II drama, “Red Tails,” for producer George Lucas. Blanchard recently scored Emily Mann’s Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” And now, add OPERA to his repertoire.
Blanchard’s very first opera made its debut in St. Louis Saturday night. “Champion” — based on the rise and fall of gay welterweight boxer Emile Griffith — was commissioned by The Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Jazz St. Louis.
In 1962, Griffith fought Benny “The Kid” Paret and won the match via knockout. Prompted by an anti-gay slur, the champ landed 17 blows to the head of Paret, leaving him comatose for ten days before he died. Years later, Griffith’s sexuality was revealed after he was nearly killed by a gang outside a gay bar in New York City. “I kill a man,” Griffith was quoted to have said, “and most people understand and forgave me. I love a man and to so many people this is an unforgiveable sin.” Today, the 75-year-old requires full-time care and suffers from dementia.
You can hear the full interview by clicking on the SoundCloud link below.
Tonight I’m very excited to see the incredible Ms. Lalah Hathaway performing live at BB Kings in Times Square. If you’re in Manhattan, definitely be sure to come check her out. Also, just in case you missed it, I’ve added the recent Studio 360 feature I created for her during the release of her latest album, “Where It All Begins.” Just press play on the player below and enjoy!
Mixed martial artist and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Jon Jones, was recently arrested for allegedly drinking and driving in Binghamton, New York.
Officials say the 24-year old was behind the wheel of his 2012 Bentley which crashed into a telephone pole early Saturday morning.
As some of you may know, I blogged about this fighter two years ago after seeing him fight live in Las Vegas at UFC100.
My disappointment in Jones stems from a recent interview I conducted with the fighter last month for WNYC Radio. Although the April 18th interview lasted 15 minutes, the station only used a couple of 10-second sound bytes related to the sport of MMA.
But here’s what Jones said towards the end of the phoner:
“To be a fighter you have to have a supreme confidence and a reassurance of who you are as a man and just who you are in self. And I have that now because of mixed martial arts. So it’s really given me goals and it’s taught me so much about life. So that’s how I maintain my close relationship to Christ. And being an elite-level fighter, I realize that in some ways, Christ would be proud of me for the man that I’ve become: I’ve taken care of my body, I don’t drink alcohol. In fitness, I think God wants that for all of us: goal-setting and being an achiever, it’s things that He wants for all of us.”
When Jones stated during the phoner that he didn’t drink alcohol, I thought — ‘wow, this guy truly has a ton of self-discipline!’ But fast-forward a month later, after hearing reports of a DWI charge, I’ve experienced a quick glimpse into his character.
Perhaps this incident for Jones was needed. Negative incidents force many of us to take inventory of what’s going on in our life and how it affects others, namely a relative or a fan. These moments help validate those people in our lives who are genuinely authentic versus those who simply just provide lip-service. Perhaps it took that telephone pole to deliver the best strike to an elite fighter with so much skill and a tremendous amount of promise. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured or killed.
Everything that happens to us happens for us.
Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call for Jones. If nothing else, I’m hoping this ordeal builds a mentally-stronger, more authentic Jon Jones than ever before.
Role models are certainly human; but humans are not invincible. I still applaud Jones’ spirit as a fighter — that spirit will remain invincible. But there is another fight that he, alone, has to confront: the battle within himself.
Jones has defended his championship belt three times. His next scheduled bout for the UFC is in September. He’s scheduled to be arraigned on DWI charges and expected to enter a plea next Tuesday in a Binghamton City Court.