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News & Features » June 2016 » Cyd Zeigler: These were the 24 hours when the LGBT community stopped being sports’ punching bag

Cyd Zeigler: These were the 24 hours when the LGBT community stopped being sports’ punching bag

FairPlayThis month marks the release of Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes Are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports by Cyd Zeigler, one of the world’s foremost experts on LGBT issues in sports and cofounder of Outsports. To celebrate the release of Fair Play, we’re pleased to share a piece by Ziegler originally published at Outsports on April 21, 2016. Click here to read the original piece.

These were the 24 hours when the LGBT community stopped being sports’ punching bag
by Cyd Zeigler

The first half of the week was tough to bear for LGBT people in sports, but in 24 hours some of the most powerful entities in sports turned the tide in powerful ways. The effect should be lasting.

I woke up Tuesday morning to a somber email from my Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski.

“I can’t find anything newsy to post tonight, hope you have something. Have five [coming-out] stories in various stages but none ready yet. I searched everywhere….”

The calm before the storm.

The last 48 hours have been a whirlwind of headlines and updates on LGBT issues in sports, straight out of the biggest players in the sports world. Hours after that email from Jim, we got a tip about a transphobic Facebook post by ESPN commentator Curt Schilling. That night, Chicago Blackhawks player Andrew Shaw used a gay slur during a playoff game. Ongoing were refusals by the NBA, NFL and NCAA to declare North Carolina off-limits for any special events.

“This is why I hate sports,” was a common theme I saw across social media from LGBT – and particularly the T – people. For people who grew up the target of bullying or harassment in high school, for people who have had to endure slurs from athletes their entire lives, for people who have watched pro-sports leagues say lovely things about gay people but rarely put actions behind the words, this week was looking like more confirmation that our community is simply another punching bag in sports.

Jim and I were preparing for the worst. We talked about the message we would craft if the NHL and ESPN didn’t take Shaw’s and Schilling’s actions as seriously as they would if racial slurs and KKK images were involved. We dug up quotes and stats to demonstrate a double-standard.

We also read pieces from people we respect, like Will Leitch, who branded this past Tuesday as a particularly bad day in sports for LGBT people and indicative of the lack of progress in sports. He wasn’t wrong.

I said the last 48 hours were a whirlwind. Rather, they were a roller coaster: What went up quickly came down — And it came down on the heads of those who had not-so-slightly offended the LGBT community.

Less than 24 hours after Shaw’s slur, the NHL came down as hard as anyone could have wanted, suspending the Blackhawks player for a game. That game happened to be Game 5 of the team’s playoff series against the hated St. Louis Blues. Trailing the Blues, 3-1, Shaw, who scored a goal in Game 5, will miss what is now an elimination game for his team.

Every player in the league has now gotten the message: If you use gay slurs, you and your team will pay a very heavy price.

Less than 36 hours after Schilling’s grotesque transphobic Facebook post came to public light, ESPN fired the commentator and called his behavior “unacceptable” for a company that defines itself as “inclusive.” In the past the company has gone the route of suspending him and others for missteps; This time, ESPN identified that the message Schilling distributed was so off-color and so disturbing that they needed to cut ties with him.

Now today comes word that the NBA is drawing a line in the sand with the state of North Carolina: If they do not repeal the anti-LGBT law that was signed by the governor last month, the league will move its 2017 All-Star game out of the state. While some have crowed that it won’t cost the city much revenue (though there is certainly plenty of disagreement with that), the message about where the LGBT community stands on the list of priorities for the NBA is the important element here.

The NHL. ESPN. The NBA. These are not local Park & Rec departments. These are not intramural leagues at a community college. These are some of the titans of the sports world over the course of 24 hours sending a collective message to athletes, media professionals and state governments: If you mess with the LGBT community, you mess with us.

To be clear, this is not some magical wave of the wand that ends all homophobia and fixes all issues. The NHL has never had a current or former athlete come out as gay. Ever. The NBA has had two players come out, but neither is currently on a team. The NFL and NCAA are marching full-steam ahead with plans to host events in North Carolina over the next 12 months. For every gay slur that is caught on tape and reprimanded, 50 more slurs are uttered away from the cameras.

While I don’t call these incidents “victories” (after all, homophobia and transphobia are the roots that started them in the first place), the end results were powerful messages of inclusion. Thankfully we have people like Christina Kahrl at ESPN, Patrick Burke (the most important “ally” we will ever have in sports) in the NHL and Jason Collins with the NBA to push for a day when these incidents never happen in the first place.


CydZeiglerCYD ZEIGLER is one of the world’s foremost experts on LGBT issues in sports. Along with his Outsports cofounder Jim Buzinski, Zeigler has written more coming-out stories of LGBT people—in sports or any other arena—than any journalist in America. These stories have included former NBA player John Amaechi, former NFL prospect Wade Davis, NFL hopeful Michael Sam, and NCAA basketball player Derrick Gordon, in addition to countless other athletes and coaches in high school, college, and pro sports. Zeigler also cofounded the Sports Equality Foundation, which helps fund the cycle of LGBT people coming out and being out in sports. He appears regularly on ESPN, and in the New York Times and USA Today, and provides expertise on LGBT sports issues for countless other media outlets including Sports Illustrated, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and NPR. He is a former high school athlete, still holding school track-and-field records twenty-five years later. A graduate of Stanford University, Zeigler lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two cats. Fair Play is his latest work.

Posted: Jun 2, 2016

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