Monday, December 27, 2004

Reggie White Wash

Eagle & Packer defensive great Reggie White, 43, died early Sunday in North Carolina. White was respected and feared by those he lined up against, had great speed off the snap and hit with authority. He was a fluid defender for his size, but strong, not the kind of guy QBs welcomed during pass plays.

Hall of Famer? Sure. Popular around the NFL? Absolutely. So when I turned on ESPN Game Day yesterday, I expected the well-deserved kudos White abundantly received. But what I didn't expect, naive me, was the abject whitewashing of White's reactionary social views, primarily his longtime anti-queer stance. I knew that they might skate around it, but I thought at worst Chris Berman's ESPN pre-game team would acknowledge that in life, White took "controversial" positions, that he didn't please everyone -- the standard hypocritical dodge when dealing with issues that don't help sell Bud Light and Chevy trucks. Hell, I thought a mainstream Repub like Steve Young, 49er QB turned ESPN chatter, might celebrate White's "outspokenness," his courage "to take a stand" and not buckle under the All Powerful force of Political Correctness.

Not to be. Instead we got endless hosannas about what a fine humanitarian White was. How he viewed all people as brothers and sisters. How his love for everyone was transcendent and pure.

Except for fags & dykes, of course. Oh, White would pray for them to give up their wicked lifestyle. But that was about the extent of it.

Let's recall some of Reggie White's publicly stated takes on same-sexers:

"Homosexuality is a decision, it's not a race. People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious and back-stabbing." -- Associated Press, March 25, 1998.

"If no one's calling you a homophobe or a bigot, check yourself. Because you're doing something wrong." -- Minnesota Family Council, April 20, 1999

"I am going to speak the truth and I am going to speak out against things that's hurting our children, that's killing off our people. If people think that's a contradiction and that's hate, they need to take them up with God, not with Reggie White." -- Associated Press, April 26, 1998, quoting White's 20/20 interview.

PEGGY WEHMEYER of ABC's 20/20: "Are you saying there that homosexuals are like liars, cheaters, backstabbers and malicious people?"

-- ABC's 20/20, April 27, 1998

Here's one worthy of Jerry Falwell's post-9/11 statement that gays were partly to blame for the terrorist attacks:

"America is not big enough to shake her fist in the face of a holy God and get away with it, and as I read this I want to explain something. I'm going to read this and then I want to explain something. As America has permitted homosexuality to establish itself as an alternate lifestyle, it is also reeling from the frightening spread of sexually transmitted disease. Sin begets its own consequence, both on individuals and nations." -- Remarks to the Wisconsin Assembly, March 25, 1998.

And more from that Assembly:

"Let me explain something when I'm talking about sin, and I'm talking about all sin. One of the biggest ones that has been talked about that has really become a debate in America is homosexuality."

"But the Bible strictly speaks against it, and because the Bible speaks against it, we allow rampant sin including homosexuality and lying, and to me lying is just as bad as homosexuality, we've allowed this sin to run rampant in our nation, and because it has run rampant in our nation, our nation is in the condition it is today."

"Sometimes when people talk about this sin they've been accused of being racist. I'm offended that homosexuals will say that homosexuals deserve rights. Any man in America deserves rights, but homosexuals are trying to compare their plight with the plight of black men or black people. In the process of history, homosexuals have never been castrated, millions of them never died."

(I think that those gays who wore the Pink Triangle in Nazi death camps might have a comeback to that.)

Now, White's defenders will point to all the good things he said in that and other speeches, primarily about how men should take responsibility for the children they help conceive, and how he assisted youth in depressed areas. But how that mitigates White's utter (and I would say un-Christian) contempt for gays is beyond me. And that ESPN's many personalities would let this pass without even a brief mention is, if not an endorsement, then certainly a toleration of views that were they about Jews or blacks would doubtlessly be cited, no matter how "nice" a guy White was.

White also worked with the Traditional Values Coalition, run by the Rev. Louis Sheldon, a particularly nasty anti-queer bigot who, among many disgusting statements, once said that those with AIDS should be quarantined in "cities of refuge" (Mark E. Pietrzyk, News-Telegraph, March 10, 1995), and who denounced any federal attempt to compensate those gays who lost lovers in the 9/11 attacks.

Of course, White was not alone or unique among jocks who hold similar views. Indeed, American sports culture is predominantly anti-queer -- or perhaps more accurately, non-queer -- when it comes to athletes and sexual orientation. In NFL history, only three gay men have outed themselves, and they are clearly the tiniest tip of a much larger iceberg. The idea that only three NFLers were gay goes not only against nature, but against math as well. Percentage-wise, the current, collective NFL roster must be at least five percent queer. And that's being conservative, given the homo-erotic nature of the game.

Fear & hatred of this obvious fact is what fuels either open hostility to queers or complete denial of their existence. (I remember years ago when Bill Parcells, then Jets head coach, responded to a question about gay players with a shake of the head, a smirk and a "that's ridiculous" dismissal.) This is true throughout American team sports, from high school to the pros. Think how long it took for Jackie Robinson and Larry Dobie to break into the majors. Think how long it'll take for American sports fans to accept an openly gay superstar, much less a journeyman jock. The anti-gay cracks heard regularly from callers on sports radio shows suggests that this form of bigotry will take decades to overcome -- if then. As Reggie White said in his rambling speech to the Wisconsin Assembly, "We're a very judgmental nation. We need to be a nation that's a caring nation, an understanding nation, a compassionate nation."

Amen to that, Reggie. God bless your soul, and may you bask in the Light that connects us all, regardless of make-up.

PS -- Here's another, albeit less charitable, take on White's passing, by the always hard-core Steve Gilliard.