Ratto: Many Lessons to be Learned from 'Out'


Ratto: Many Lessons to be Learned from 'Out'

Nov. 9, 2010


Ray Ratto

There are many lessons to be learned from Out: The Glenn Burke Story,our little companys latest production which premiers at the CastroTheatre Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., followed by a town halldiscussion of gays in sport on Chronicle Live at 9:15.

But the one that stands front and center remains this: The progress onthe issue is incremental, so incremental that it is almost invisible.

Oh, there are moments here and there in which one can say, Now here's a step, the most of recent of which is Kye Allums, the transgender athlete playing on the George WashingtonUniversity (Division 1-A) womens basketball team. The school and teamhave welcomed him openly, even with the questions about him identifyinghimself as a man on a womens team, and of separate locker rooms causedby a Washington, D.C., law specifying gender-specific facilities.

But most of the same external pressures that crushed Glenn Burkesbaseball career are still there. Gay athletes in team sports stilldont come out until after their careers are essentially over, becauseonce they do come out, their careers ARE essentially over.

And the triumphs are lost in the massive closet in which most gayathletes remain. Gareth Thomas, the Welsh international rugby player,came out only toward the end of his storied international career, andadmitted, he could never have come out without first establishinghimself and earning respect as a player. And Graeme LeSaux, thelongtime English international soccer player, was taunted for years forbeing gay, when in fact he wasnt. Justin Fashanu, the first openly gayEnglish soccer star (he was the first black man to earn 1 million peryear) killed himself in 1998 after years of club and terrace abuse.

In America, the story is roughly the same. Active players staycloseted, and come out only after their careers are over, largelybecause the baggage is too heavy. More openly gay athletes are women,and almost all play in individual sports.

In short, the gay males in team sports keep their sexuality private asbest they can, and the dynamics by which they can function in teamsports runs in almost direction proportion to their importance to theteam.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Since Dave Kopay, the former 49er and redskin running back, came out in1975, the advancements for gay and transgender athletes have beenoccasionally noteworthy. Martina Navratilova is probably the mostaccomplished athlete to admit her homosexuality, and is no longer muchof a story when an athlete in an individual sport declares him- orherself to be gay.

But Glenn Burke was a baseball player a quarter-century ago, and what societal gains there have been have happened mostly since then. Burke chose the hardest row to hoe ata time when America had not yet confronted its sexual and genderissues, and keeping true to himself was more difficult then than itwould be now.

Out makes a pretty clear case about the manifest cruelties of ajudgmental society. It may even provide hope to the next generation ofathletes confronted by the question of fear vs. career.

But the Glenn Burke story is only our story. There are dozens of othersthat ended much worse, and you would do well to follow Out with theBBC documentary, Inside Sport: The Last Taboo. Burkes story is partof a larger one, one that moves too slowly and has consumed too manyvictims, gay and straight, man and woman. In that context, hope anddespair walk hand in hand.

Then again, viewed in that context, maybe its better to say despairand hope. Because if anything is to be gathered from Out, it is thathope follows despair, not the other way around.

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations


Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.