Gay Kiss Is Just a Kiss? Tolerance Growing for LGBTs in Sports
An incident that occurred at the end of the 2012 PBA Chameleon Championship in Las Vegas in mid-November garnered a degree of cyberspace chatter after ESPN broadcasted footage of the incident in late December. Yet this unusual pro-LGBT moment might have proven less revolutionary in the furthering of LGBT acceptance than one might have expected. That view was expressed by Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder and editor of outsports.com, the GLBT-supportive 13-year-old website focusing on gays in the sports arena.
Following the PBA event, professional bowler Scott Norton of Costa Mesa, California, a jubilant victor over Jason Belmonte, shared a spontaneous no-hold barred kiss and terms of endearment with his husband, Craig Woodward.
ESPN's announcers, in a matter-of-fact manner, referred to the two gentlemen as spouses and husbands, according to Jaime Perez, of the site iabowling.tv, which records bowling event footage. On outsports.com, Jim Buzinski included a video clip, showing Norton's moment of victory, followed by the couple's spontaneous display of affection.
Zeigler seems to believe this broadcast at a sports event is unquestionably positive and interesting, but is probably not too significant in the overall scheme of things. An athlete who eked out a career as a journalist, Zeigler is clearly a person with an informed opinion.
"Outsports is the most-read gay sports publication in the world. We run stories of homophobia in gay sports, athletes coming out of the closet, straight athletes saying positive things about gay marriage or having gay teammates," he told EDGE. "We cover everything to do with the LGBT community in sports."
Zeigler said he isn't certain whether any other gay person has kissed a partner on national television.
"I've seen a lot of positive things stated about this incident, but I haven't come across a single negative thing," said Zeigler. "I'm sure some people didn't like it. The media coverage all seems to be favorable."
There have been scattered reports of isolated homophobic reactions on Facebook, where people of all sorts of political or ideological persuasions don't hesitate to vent their views.
Is it harder for athletes to come out of the closet than actors? "It's hard for me to say for sure," remarked Ziegler, "but I think there are reasons professional athletes don't come out of the closet while still playing, and only seven have come out after retiring. When you look at that, we do have people in prime time television and films who are out. There are two things to consider about gays in sports: there is a great power of Christianity surrounding sports and there is also the fact that athletes get naked in the locker room. That raises eyebrows, a different element from what you find in the entertainment industry."
Yet Ziegler also believes that there is a higher likelihood that top A-list actors could damage their careers by coming out more than athletes would.
"The actor actually has more at risk," he said. "And the problem is not the public's acceptance. It's the industry. The super-liberal people in Hollywood are those who have a problem with it."
In the long run, how significant was this televised kiss?
"It obviously grabbed some people's attention," said Zeigler. "In general, you don't see gay kisses in public that often. There are misconceptions about ESPN, which is actually an incredibly gay-friendly company. Some might have viewed the public kiss as a big surprise. But to those who know ESPN and the people there, it's not such a surprise. Also understand that this was not ESPN's choice. It was the PBA that really produced the piece. They decided to keep it in. It's encouraging to see this occur, but it's truly not such big news -- more of a curiosity than something groundbreaking."
In a public statement, Norton put what occurred at the tournament into a laudable perspective.
"It is extremely important for me to come out to show other gay athletes, both current and future, that it is important to come out to show that we are just like everyone else," said Norton. "Being gay doesn't define who I am as a person or as a professional athlete."
Meanwhile, Barry Petechesky on deadspin.com, pointed out that it took several days between the bowling tournament and the day when the ESPN broadcast aired. He summed things up in a way that seems to support Zeigler's estimation of the incident's impact.
"A gay athlete celebrates with a gay kiss for his gay husband, and the story is simple: Scott Norton won a bowling tournament. Imagine that," said Petechesky. That could be the most positive gay-friendly message of all.