Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue have no issues with gay players

GM Joe Mack makes that clear in light of 49er's remarks

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NEW ORLEANS -- There are gay players in hockey, football, baseball and basketball. Gay coaches and gay fans. We just don't know their names. It's time we did.

Homosexuality is, in the plainest of terms, part of our society. To suggest, argue or pretend professional sports are any different is head-in-the-sand thinking of the highest degree.

The moment long ago arrived when a gay athlete should have been free to be open about their life. Secrecy crushes souls. Breaks the spirit of people. We can't condone it in our workplaces or in our sports stadiums. We want to celebrate our teams and our athletes. We should demand they be free to be who they are in every way.

It's ridiculous that we even have to discuss it, but it's clear we do.

Sports has at times led the way for change. Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball at a time when black people couldn't eat at many restaurants or stay in many hotels.

But on the subject of homosexuality, sport is woefully off the pace.

"For all practical purposes sport is behind. I don't think you can use sport as an indicator of someone who is an athlete being allowed to participate or play or be accepted in a locker-room," said CBS Sports analyst and former NFLer Solomon Wilcots.

"You can't use sports as a template for real life or society. It lags behind. There's no room for discrimination anywhere. Choosing or not choosing someone because of their preference in the bedroom is based on ignorance and is narrow-minded. There needs to be an open-mindedness where people are judged on the quality of their work and how they relate to other people."

The subject came into focus at the Super Bowl when San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver proclaimed there was no room for gay players on his team.

"I don't do the gay guys man," Culliver said earlier this Super Bowl week. "I don't do that.

"No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they got to get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. Nah... can't be... in the locker-room man. Nah."

The Niners immediately distanced themselves from Culliver's comments saying they "rejected" his views. Culliver himself was speaking from a different book on Thursday.

"(I was) really just not thinking. (It was) something that I thought. Definitely nothing that I felt in my heart," he said. "I just want to learn and grow. Like I said, just talk to the media and when people come at me with questions, answer to the best of my knowledge. I don't have (any) differences with other sexualities, just like that...

"They were very ugly comments, and that's not what I feel in my heart. Hopefully, I can learn and grow from this experience and this situation. "

Blue Bombers GM Joe Mack told the Free Press on Thursday his organization doesn't consider a player's sexuality to be material.

"I don't think anyone's orientation is even something we would consider to be honest with you," said Mack. "A gay player, if he worked hard, was competitive and tried his to help his team, he would definitely be accepted. Thankfully, our society as a whole has become much more understanding. We don't have any right to be involved in a person's orientation or their religion...We're trying to win football games and if you follow our rules and the ethos of what Tim Burke puts down, it's not an issue."

Mack says the Blue Bombers would support a player who elected to step forward as a gay athlete.

"If a player came to me in that situation, I'd sit down and listen to him and my sense is by and large the coaching staff, the players and the organization and I believe the fans, would accept it," he said.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff says his organization has been active in eliminating discrimination of any kind but in particular against homosexuals.

"We've been active supporters of the You Can Play campaign to counteract this attitude in hockey which has been spearheaded by Patrick Burke," said Cheveldayoff.

"Both players and management have been very outspoken in their support publicly. As an organization, we simply don't condone any type of discrimination whether it be sexual or racial in our locker-room."

I have no interest in bashing Culliver. He's just someone who plays a game for a living. We shouldn't be taking direction from him.

Society as a whole should empower people of all cultures and sexual orientations to stand as they are and deny any significance to comments like those Culliver uttered.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 C4

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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