Just as the movie “42” has opened, telling the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball, momentum seems to be building for another social barrier to fall. There have been numerous reports that a gay athlete in one of the United States’ four major men’s sports is about to publicly reveal his sexual orientation.
The NHL last week announced a working agreement with You Can Play, a group dedicated to advocating for equality and respect for athletes of all sexual orientations. Former Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is outspoken against homophobia in the NFL, has been meeting with representatives from the league as well as some gay players to discuss ways to handle the athletes going public.
Whichever current sports figure decides to go first, how will such an announcement be made? A news conference seems unlikely, since the questions can be too unpredictable. The story will probably be broken in a sit-down interview with a broadcaster who seems like a sympathetic listener. Think Lance Armstrong opening up to Oprah Winfrey, or Manti Te’o chatting with Katie Couric.
We will get sort of a preview on Monday night, when CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviews soccer player Robbie Rogers, a former member of the United States national team who in February revealed that he is gay. Rogers, who played professionally in England, taped the interview with Cooper last week. It will air at 8 p.m. Monday on CNN.
Rogers made the revelation on his website on Feb. 15. He also said he was retiring from soccer at age 25. Cooper is sure to ask him about that decision, as did Sam Borden of the New York Times in a recent interview.
“I’m definitely not closing any doors,” Rogers told the Times. “Maybe I will go back. Right now, I’m just happy to be out and being honest with people. But just because I’m out doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent healthy. It’s been 25 years that I haven’t been myself.”
Cooper is a logical choice for Rogers as his interviewer. Cooper last July announced publicly that he was gay, “always have been, always will be,” in a letter to the blogger Andrew Sullivan. (That declaration made even more headlines in 2012 than when Cooper chuckled about Dyngus Day.) This year, Cooper received an award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for his outspokenness.
When a current major athlete in a major team sport is ready to go public, it will be a huge “get” for a broadcaster. Cooper, Couric and Winfrey would all make sense, as would Diane Sawyer, or perhaps Robin Roberts.
I might place a small bet on someone who is more solidly grounded in the sports world: Bob Costas.
Costas has the right blend of skills to make him the perfect choice for such an assignment. He has become very outspoken in the past few years, not limiting his commentary to things that happen between the lines on an athletic field.
Last week Costas, a longtime staple at NBC, appeared on the syndicated Dan Patrick radio show and accused CBS of some sins of omission in its TV coverage of the Masters.
“What no CBS commentator has alluded to, even in passing, even during a rain delay, even when there was time to do so” Costas said, “is Augusta’s history of racism and sexism.” He said that if he ever got the opportunity to cover the event, “I’d have to say something, and then I would be ejected.”
Costas also made some waves last December, in the wake of the murder-suicide of Kansas City chiefs player Jovan Belcher, when he said that Belcher and his girlfriend would still be alive had Belcher not had access to guns. Costas later back-pedaled a bit, saying in another appearance with Dan Patrick that he regretted oversimplifying the issue in his commentary.
Costas is a good interviewer, has great knowledge of sports, and he has a social conscience that he’s not afraid to assert. I can’t picture many broadcasters better suited to doing a big “coming out” interview.
Branca opens up
The Jim Rome Show had a fascinating interview last week with Ralph Branca, who was one of Jackie Robinson’s teammates on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branca is best known for giving up the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” home run to Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants when the Giants won the pennant in a 1951 playoff.
Branca last year wrote a book called “A Moment in Time,” a memoir of his baseball career and that day of infamy in the Polo Grounds. But according to Branca, it was the Giants who should wear the infamous tag. Branca detailed – in his book and on Rome’s show – accusations that the Giants used a system of wires, buzzers and a telescope to steal signs from other teams, including the Dodgers in that game.
A story in the Wall Street Journal in 2001 first reported the accusations, and Branca fully embraces them.
Giants manager Leo Durocher was behind the plan, Branca said. And it helped the Giants go 49-17 over their last 66 games, enabling them to tie the Dodgers for the NL regular-season crown.
“How does that make you feel?” Rome asked the 87-year-old Branca.
“Pretty upset,” he said.