A few years ago (probably around 15 or so in actuality) former SI writer Rick Reilly wrote one of the most eloquent diatribes around the simple question his son asked him one day as they were lying in some park grass – “why are we here?” Reilly proceeded to write one of the most brilliant 800 word columns of his entire career explaining the beauty and duality of life and sports.
A different question needs to be asked now: Who cares – and why should they?
We live in a sports and news culture that has a 24 hour shelf life. There have been “Pope Death Watch” and scandels galore and yet they all gradually fade into the next big story or the next big scandel. Yet, everything lives forever now on the internet. Every tweet or post someone makes lives on eternally in cyber space. How can athletes – or really anyone – reconcile this fact with the issues that truly matter?
Again, we need to ask the question: Who Cares – and why should they?
Take two of the most polarizing issues in the past couple of weeks: Brittney Griner may try out for an NBA team and a major and active pro athlete may come out. If either of these happens, it will get major play in the media – and rightfully so. People will come out with all the reasons why these things are awful for sports and they will be condemned etc. when really the only thing we need ask is “who cares?” And then say, good for her, and the sport.
Who cares if a woman (and a darn good one at that!) wants to try against the dudes? Does it really change things all that much? If she fails, at least she gave it a shot; and do not believe for one second she sets back another woman from trying because each situation should be judged on an individual basis (and as Shane Battier says, eventually some cat quick guard that can shoot the lights out should get a shot too). If she succeeds then the NCAA may have to literally eat its hat and admit for once that woman playing sports deserve at least as much recognition as male athletes. So, in any event: who cares? Who does it hurt if she trys? Not herself or the integrity of the sport – she only has a chance to better it, if anything.
Multiple stories also seem to be saying we are getting closer and closer to a fully out professional athlete in a major sport. Religious groups (and cults!) will no doubt scream and protest and someone will make an incredibly insensitive comment in the media about not wanting to share a locker room…but ultimately: who cares?
This person would automatically vault to the top of the “Sportsman of the Year” list and would rightfully be seen as the “Jackie Robinson” of the situation. Keep in mind how difficult it is for many people to come out when they are not in the public eye and use that to help measure just how brave the ahtlete who comes out would be. Additionally if you think for one second they would not be whole heartedly accepted, you are dead wrong. Read Gary Smith’s brilliant article about the Welsh rugby player who came out to his teammates if you do not believe me; it is truly one of the most inspiring magazine articles I have ever read. This person would be celebrated and rightfully so. They would be a hero to millions. They would make it okay for everyone, everywhere to be exactly who they are without fear of consequences and we would all celebrate their bravery. Again, this person would finally and truly make us say “who cares?” when it comes to gay athletes because none of them are any different from anyone else.
Moving forward there is just one response we need to use towards pioneers who want to make sports, and life, better and more equal for all of us and against those who would see them remain in tormented shadows. It is a response that shows we do not only completely support them, and give them the hero status they rightly deserve, but also shows that it has never been wrong for them to be who they are and try to do what they want. Simply we need to say to them: Thank you, it is about time.