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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Great Non-Issue

Robbie Rogers
The buzz on sports radio for a few days last month was footballer Robbie Rogers. He came out of the closet and left professional soccer, setting off the latest round of sports media debates about whether or not professional athletes are ready to have homosexuals in the locker room (The previous round came in 2007, triggered by John Amaechi).

I am sometimes a sports radio listener, and so endured these rather silly conversations, and I came away shaking my head. There is still a homophobic contingent in sports media, or at least a contingent that sympathizes with homophobic athletes, which functionally amounts to the same thing.

I'd like to know why on earth anyone thinks it matters who is "ready" for homosexuals. Homosexuals are real people; they are among us, whether we are ready for them or not. Do we think we can make them disappear by declaring we aren't ready for them?

A lot of people weren't "ready" for Jackie Robinson, but that didn't change the obvious fact that he belonged in Major League Baseball. The readiness of the people around him had no bearing on his being, by every objective standard, one of the best second-basemen in the history of the game. If there are homosexuals who are good at sports--and, clearly, there are--then our readiness for them is irrelevant.

Moreover, what's not to be ready for?

I have no patience for adults who still cling to the childish notion that there's something dirty or weird about gay people. Many of us thought this way as children because our parents treated homosexuality as a taboo subject and our schoolmates threw the words "gay" and "faggot" around as all-purpose insults. But we all grow up, and we all have access to the information we need to see how silly we were as kids. Asking athletes to tolerate homosexual teammates is nothing more than asking them to act like grown-ups.

And if they can't be grown-ups, that's their problem. The rest of the world won't wait for them, and shouldn't have to.

Who am I to say, you ask? Well, I may not have any great insight into the mind of professional athletes, but as a martial artist, I am an athlete of sorts and I do use a locker room. And sometimes there is a gay man in that locker room.

One of the instructors at my old aikido club is gay. I train with him whenever I visit my old club, and trained  with him at a recent seminar. He's a brilliant martial artist, and it's a pleasure and a privilege to train with him. I wish I could train with him more; his approach to ukemi is wonderful, and that part of my aikido is sorely lacking.

Out on the mat, I trust this man with my safety. As an uke, I give him every opportunity to hyper-extend my joints, to poke my eye out with a weapon, and to slam me (either back- or face-first) into the mat. I risk it gladly, secure in the knowledge that all his skill and experience are protecting me.

And yes, he and I change together the men's locker room. If there's any embarrassment or discomfort about this on my part, it's because he is in much better shape than I am despite being at least a decade my senior.

The fact that he is gay is a non-issue, a peripheral personal detail. Our relationships outside the dojo are material for post-training chatter, but they are largely irrelevant to what we do on the mat.

Perhaps it's ignorant of me to say, but I don't see why everyone can't see this issue the way I do: as a non-issue. There are no gay cooties to catch and there's no reason not to trust homosexuals as teammates (and if you're afraid of your gay teammates coming onto you, gentlemen, remember that women having been enduring men's awkward advances since the dawn of time--it's only fair that we might have to take a little of the heat).

I have a gay teammate. He's a damn good teammate, and I'm lucky to have him. It's sad to imagine the number of people who miss out on teammates like this because they're just "not ready", whatever the hell that means.

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