Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two Little Words

Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement guarantees five more years of labor peace. There's been plenty of talk about the new wild-card playoff plan, the league re-alignment (moving Houston to the American League), and the new drug-testing policy which includes blood tests for human growth hormone (HGH).

But largely below the radar screen, two little words have been inserted that speak volumes about how far the world of sports has come on the issue of sexual orientation. Baseball's long protected the rights of players based on their "race, color, religion, or national origin." The new CBA adds "sexual orientation" to the list of protected categories.

Of course, merely saying the sport protects the rights of gay ballplayers (and don't kid yourself, there certainly are gay ballplayers) doesn't mean the anti-gay slurs will dry up and blow away. Just last season, Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell dropped a crude anti-gay comment (amplified with a gesture involving a bat) on some fans at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

No, the homophobic sports culture won't change overnight. But the times, they are a-changin'. Most other pro sports leagues already have similar language in their basic agreements (notably, the NBA does not, though one hopes that will be addressed in current labor talks). Many baseball teams hold "LGBT Nights" in recognition of the fact that you don't have to be straight to be a fan. And a number of teams, including the Giants, have produced videos as part of the "It Gets Better" anti-homophobia program.

Eventually, the term "out" will have multiple meanings in big-league baseball. That might still take some time. But for now, it's a step forward to see the sport--owners and players--agree that gay ballplayers deserve full protection. I know plenty of gay and lesbian fans; they root just as hard and wear their teams' colors just as proudly as anyone else. Now they can feel that the sport speaks for them, too.

Nobody wins when somebody is left out or marginalized.

No comments: