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Coming Out in the World of Sports

I am revisiting a topic I discussed earlier on in the year on my blog because I feel I didn’t communicate my thoughts effectively.  Also, it pertains to an issue that continues to surface; that is, news coverage of athletes announcing that they are gay.

I don’t mean to sound insensitive, because I’m not, but these announcements aren’t news.  It may be news to the athletes family, their friends, their coaches and their teammates, but it is not news to the world.

Most recently, Derrick Gordon, a guard for the UMass men’s basketball team, announced that he is gay.  Of course, an interview shortly followed his announcement on April 8th in which Kate Fagan asked Gordon about his coming out.

The questioning started out relevant to sports.  First, Fagan asked Gordon what it was like to finally tell his teammates he was gay.  She quickly moved on to ask him about his parents’ reactions and how his siblings took the news.  Fagan later brought her questions back to basketball, Jason Collins and concerns of playing in college after coming out.

Gordon admitted in the interview that Jason Collin’s coming out encouraged him to do the same.  For this reason, the media coverage of these (very personal) announcements is a good thing.

I cannot speak from experience, but can imagine it is quite a difficult thing to build up the courage to do.  I think it’s a great thing and I don’t mean to criticize the athletes, because they didn’t ask for this attention.  But ESPN discovers someone who plays sports is gay and they decide to make it a news story and blow it completely out of proportion.

Michael Sam, a highly touted football player from Missouri captivated sports news for the same reason in February of this year.  The talented defensive end admitted to have been gay for some time, but felt that he should make his sexual orientation public before entering the NFL draft.

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The ensuing reaction from the media was all positive (as it should be) but I wonder if all the attention to stories like this are counterintuitive to the progression of homosexuals in general.  NBA basketball player Jason Collins made his coming out public last April.  Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in a major American sport and ESPN had a field day with the news.

jason collins

I think it’s great that the media recognizes milestones such as these, but the amount of attention given to these announcements may be a little over-the-top.  It makes coming out seem like much more of a big deal than it should be.  I don’t mean to be inconsiderate of the people who have built up the courage to make their homosexuality public, but I do believe the media has successfully blown it out of proportion.

It makes me believe that the media attention is a large part of the reason athletes are reluctant to come out.  They may not want to be the next athlete to be talked about for a solid week on broadcast television solely because of their newly announced sexual orientation.

I’m sure the announcements of Collins, Sam and Gordon have given many athletes courage to be comfortable with who they are, but I don’t think they’ll want the media attention that these athletes have received.  I wish the best to all three of these athletes in their respective careers.  I just hope they make headlines in sports for something other than their sexual orientation going forward.

-FS

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Kansas’ Tears

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Last Sunday No. 10-seeded Stanford ousted the No. 2-seed Kansas to play another day in the NCAA Tournament.

In the closing minute of the surprising Kansas loss, the focus switched to someone off the court.  It wasn’t the parent of a player or the coaches’ family, but a young Kansas fan who happened to be taking the loss pretty hard.

Stanford had a sizable lead and the game appeared to be over.  CBS cut to a view of the crowd eventually zeroing in on a Kansas fan with tears streaming down his face, knowing his team would not continue to the sweet sixteen.  But here’s the thing, CBS didn’t get a brief shot of this pure emotion from a young fan, they kept the camera there.  For a long time.

Finally they took the camera off of the kid and refocused on the remaining minute of the game.  Kansas started to mount a bit of a comeback and cut the lead to two. Things started to get interesting–quick, flash back to the kid again, now wiping the tears from his eyes.

CBS’ select coverage of the young Kansas fan caused quite the commotion online.  First, Twitter flipped out.

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And then sports writers all over the web commented on it.  The troubling thing to me was very few of them came to the young fan’s defense, and if they did, they danced around it a bit.

Nick Schwartz of USA Sports pointed out “sad kids at games have been a staple of broadcast coverage for years.”  He went on to question whether or not it is okay today due to the rise of social media.  Because of this, “almost everything on TV will be documented somewhere and stored on the internet forever.”  Schwartz entertained the question of deeming this insensitive, but did not answer it himself.

Well, at least he didn’t add to the ridicule.

CBS didn’t hesitate to continue broadcasting the fan’s sorrow all over their website.  The video of the kid crying plays on a reel and under it the CBS Eye on College Basketball staff wrote this:

“I’m sure this kid wasn’t the only one crying toward the end of Kansas’ round of 32 loss to Stanford, but he represents Jayhawk fans everywhere.”

“And he’s going to go viral.”

“It’s good to see a kid that passionate about a college basketball program, though.”

Wow.  As if it wasn’t cruel enough to continually show this kid on live TV, now they have him crying online.  Their commentary shows absolutely zero concern for the young fan’s feelings.  I guess I should have expected that from the source who found him in the crowd in the first place.  I’m sorry to be adding to the virality, Kansas kid.

Mashable may have taken the lightest approach to the fan’s unwarranted spotlight.  Sam Laird wrote, “Stanford scored one of the weekend’s biggest March Madness upsets by taking down mighty Kansas . . . but that may not be what the game is remembered for.”

The upset would be remembered for the “tearful young Kansas fan” CBS zoomed in on in the crowd.  “Then CBS focused in on him some more.  And some more.  And–what the heck?–some more for good measure.”

Laird admitted that it has become commonplace for “sad young fans” to be featured in sports broadcasts.  But the “extra-long fixation on this particular small fan ticked off Twitter in a way that’s far from usual,” and this for good reason.  By the time Laird wrote this article, the hashtag #CryingKansasFan had picked up some serious attention.  On Sunday alone “the phrase was mentioned nearly 5,000 times on Twitter.”

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Laird ended his article by weighing the two sides of the tearful fan’s coverage:

“On the one hand, CBS’ lingering shot was exploitative and the online backlash is well-earned.  On the other hand, raw emotion like this is half the reason we obsess over sports in the first place–and while this shot went on for a rather long time, showing a sad young fan wasn’t otherwise very unusual.”

Most of the articles wrongly characterized the loss through the lens of the young fan. Because of the coverage, his crying face has become the symbol of the Kansas loss.  Not the players hanging their heads, not the coach shaking hands with the other in defeat, but this little kid’s face.

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Although these images perfectly capture the Stanford upset of Kansas, a young fan was victimized by CBS to communicate the agony of the loss.  I can remember times in my life when I have cried over games.  Several of them I played in myself, but I have let plenty of tears flow sitting in the Dean Dome as I watched my team lose.  Lucky for me, I never became a hashtag for people to tweet about and ridicule.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same for this poor Kansas fan.  So, keep your head up buddy, some of us admire your passion.

-FS

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News & Observer Sides with State

Sometimes when I go home my parents will have held on to something for me to see.  Most of the time it’s something my dad wants me to read.  He might cut out a Fortune Magazine article with a sticky note on top of it saying something like, “Read this, do it and buy me a Ferrari.”  Other times it could be a new driving law he wants to make sure I know about, or anything else a concerned parent would want their kid to know.

When I came home from spring break my parents had saved two News & Observer articles for me.  Both articles had huge pictures of the victorious N.C. State basketball team following their defeat of Syracuse on Friday, March 15.  Below the photos covered in red were two smaller pictures of carolina blue displaying drastically different emotions.

My parents didn’t hold on to these to rub it in (I think…).  My good friend, Staats Battle, plays basketball for the wolfpack, and he made sure to get his face on that front page.  That’s him to T.J. Warren’s right.

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I’m glad my parents held onto the article so I could see the picture, put above it the headline read:  “N.C. State victory; UNC agony”.  And below the above picture filled with jubilation and excitement was this…

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Hell of a contrast, right?  This woman looks like she should be wearing a darker shade of blue.

Already disgusted with the N&O’s portrayal of my team’s loss, I decided to see if the article had any redeeming qualities.  Here are the first two sentences of staff writer Luke Decock’s run down:

“While North Carolina all but ensured it will not begin the NCAA tournament just down the road in Raleigh, N.C. State went a long way toward joining the Tar Heels in the field with an upset of Syracuse.  The Wolfpack got the big win it needed to bolster its fragile NCAA case with a 66-63 win over the Orange on Friday, but North Carolina exited the ACC tournament early with an 80-75 loss to Pittsburgh, making it unlikely the Tar Heels will be seeded high enough to stay close to home at PNC Arena next week.”

This sounds like a subtle “this is our state” cry for praise.  I even did a quick search of this Luke Decock to see if he was a N.C. State grad, he wasn’t.

Anyway, I flipped to the sports page hoping it might show more of a balance of the two teams.  I saw these two pictures of T.J. hanging on the rim and Roy doing his thing along with Luke Decock’s headshot next to the article.  I stopped reading.

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*There’s Staats again under T.J.’s foot

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I realize that the N&O is a Raleigh paper, but it’s not N.C. State’s newspaper.  I grew up reading the sports page of the N&O, but this particular edition surprised me.  Sure they’re not going to put a picture in there of Tokoto throwing down a huge dunk when we lost, but no need to pick out the most ridiculous looking Carolina fan in the whole arena.  Obviously I’m biased, but I think the N&O could have done a better job of representing our heels despite the loss.

-FS

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USA Olympians Calling All Fans for a ‘Digital Sendoff’

All fans are invited to contribute to the “digital sendoff” on Thursday to wish our Olympians luck in the Sochi Games.  Fans can send their support via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google+ and interact with some of the athletes who will be representing the United States in the Winter Olympics.

Mashable released an article highlighting the sendoff and explaining the details of the event.

The sendoff will include a “crowd sourced video featuring good-luck messages from Team USA fans”.  This, along with other forms of digital support will be posted to Team USA’s website and YouTube channel.

This digital sendoff is representative of impact that social media has had on sporting events.  It gives fans the opportunity to show their support from around the country and across the world.  Some will even interact with members of the U.S. Olympic team in Google+ Hangouts.

Social media is so prominent, in fact, that the U.S. Olympic Committee even has a social media hub for the games that “will function as a slimmed-down, USA-centric point of digital contact.”  All the fans need to do is use #GoTeamUSA in their message to become a part of the 2014 Sochi Games.

*images obtained from Google images

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Australian Open Heat

If you’ve taken the time to watch any of the Australian Open you know it’s hot, really hot.  Temperatures have held consistently above 100 degrees.  I’m sure the blue courts of Melbourne Park don’t cool things down. There have been complaints from both players and fans.  Several players have collapsed on the courts not in celebration, but pure exhaustion.  Despite the heat, there has still been some great tennis to watch.

Fans are keeping cool by draping towels over their head or huddling next to the mist fans among the stands.  Some tennis players are using a different cool strategy, ice vests.  GlobalPost released an article Wednesday capturing the heat in a series of pictures.

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*images obtained from Google images