Waiting For Jackie

by Corey

I spent a lot of the previous weeks watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Baseball. Its truly great, not only because it pumps up the sport, but because just when you think the whole production is going to turn into a George M. Cohan number, it reminds you how exclusionary this country has always been and always struggled against. The United States is a weird place. We talk a huge game on liberty and freedom, but never quite seem to get there. We always find a way to remind ourselves that we are human and screw up. Jefferson writes about how liberty is self-evident while owning people. Lincoln emancipates the slaves while suspending Habeas Corpus and tearing though civil liberties to save the union. FDR goes all in to take out fascism while throwing American citizens into camps.

Baseball was there through almost our entire history and reflects our struggles, and that history is the story of our coming to terms with just how serious we are about liberty and freedom. We’re like a cocky punk who gets called on his bluff, and then has to dig deep to prove we are up to our own bragging.

There is a reason Major League Baseball retired 42, folks. Jackie Robinson never quit fighting for equality and justice. He worked hard for civil rights causes after his retirement, which makes him the hero he is and also something we may never see again. Our days of Athletes using their star power for social justice may be behind us. He made it to the Brooklyn Dodgers and showed not only that he could play but could dominate. However, he also showed an amount of fortitude and heart in holding up to the incessant pressure, bigotry, and hate that was thrown at him. It also took a guy in management willing to stand up to the institutionalized racism that permeated baseball. Branch Rickey was the guy, who planned long and hard to take town the invisible wall in baseball. This story has been well documented so I won’t retell it here.

Homosexuality is one of the last barriers we have in sports, but it is so much different than our other barriers we’ve had to overcome because you can’t look at someone and see it. There was no closet for African-Americans to hide in. This does not make it easier for homosexuality. Living in a constant state of fear and anxiety is not a blessing. I think maybe we have our Branch Rickey in Brian Burke, who’s stance on equality has been well documented. Now we need an athlete who is brave enough to play while being themselves and suffer through so that others can follow.

I don’t need to make the legal case for gay marriage – liberty is self evident, after all. But don’t be content with just thinking its a legal issue. Separate but equal sounded nice on paper too, and allowing those to have the legal rights of marriage without the concept and sanctity of marriage is a separation of the same kind. There can be no barrier. There can be no visible or invisible difference. There can be no excuse to claim it doesn’t mean as much because of who someone is.

Marriage is what we make it. The court decision embedded below makes that pretty clear. It is a seminal work on what this country is all about, and it is mandatory reading for anyone who cares about who we are as a people. From land management, to political cooperation, to economic security, to love, our definition of what marriage is has not been an immovable object. We’ve made it up as we’ve gone along to suit our needs. Our needs have changed now. Our society is advancing. It won’t be easy. Sports can help. I hope one day to see the second coming of 42. Until that day, we still have work to do.

No sleep ’till Brooklyn.

California Prop 8 Ruling (August 2010)

5 Comments

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  2. Mike

    I could leave a long well-reasoned response to this blog post, but it would seem inappropriate for a sports blog. Let’s just say that I think the comparison between institutionalized racial segregation and gay marriage prohibition is like comparing apples and oranges. Or a centipede and an elephant.

    • Corey

      Well I would counter that there a differences and similarities.

      I think we are fighting one of the last battles in the equality rights of gays and lesbians, so we are on the back half of this legal fight, I think. It is important to remember that acts of homosexuality in any form were outlawed not all that long ago. The reason there wasn’t segregation was that as a homosexual you could make an attempt at hiding your difference. African Americans had no choice.

      Also, lets not confuse segregation with discrimination. Segregation is a form of discrimination, just as prohibition of marriage is. The prohibition of marriages between men or women is founded on strikingly familiar ideas when looking at the history of the prohibition of marriages between people of different races.

      They are not identical comparisons to be sure, but I think the heart is in the right place, and the paths end at the same destination – people being denied liberty for no good reason.

      BONUS: Don’t be afraid to write what you’re thinking Mike. I look forward to your comments.

  3. Mike

    Let me preface my statements with my belief that I don’t think it’s legal to withhold any legal benefits based on sexual orientation. That is discriminatory.
    At the same time, I respect the opinions of those who honestly believe that marriage can only exist between a man and woman, which is why I don’t have a problem with what this agent says. If he honestly believes it, who am I to tell him that he’s wrong?
    I’m all for Civil Unions. Homosexuals should have all the rights to all the benefits of marriage. But if someone believes that the word “marriage” only applies to hetero coupling, doesn’t it just boil down to semantics at some point? You could call it purple monkey dishwasher for all I care. If it means the same thing to you, why do you need to call it the same thing? And I particularly resent any notion that the government would have the power to force people to change their definition of a long held belief. I’m fine with Massachusetts and Vermont having gay marriage, if their citizens want it. I’m fine with any religious denomination that wants to having gay marriage. I think that there will effectively be gay marriage easily within the next 10-20 years in every state. But I think that it’s healthy to allow attitudes in the various states to change on their own. Forcing people to change their minds overnight only upsets people.
    Which brings me to what I was referring earlier. Separate but equal in terms of Plessy vs. Ferguson was an invidious policy that effectively created a black underclass, or at least largely prevented black success. The physical forcing of African Americans to inferior facilities, especially schools is much different to me than using a different definition for gay marriage than the word gay marriage. While Brown v. Board of Education said that separate was inherently inequal, I am skeptical the logic in their decision really applies to this situation. I just don’t see the open discrimination if everything between the two institutions was the same except for what you called them. The ironic part is that I think that the gay community has almost been doomed, from a PR standpoint, by their own success. Gays are portrayed, and there is some demographic truth to it, as being wealthier, more educated, and more successful than the average person. But a gay person’s sexual orientation is not generally holding them back from being successful. Isn’t discrimination discrimination though? Shouldn’t it not matter how successful or educated someone is? The short answer I think is that in a pure ideological world, absolutely. But we don’t live in a pure ideological world and never will. Perceptions matter. The ability to make a successful living also matters, not to go to Horatio Alger on this. People don’t necessarily believe that not being able to have “marriage” is really setting gays back all that far.
    What is interesting to me as well is that I think this debate speaks to something uniquely American. I once went to a talk given by the Chief Justice of Australia’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, who happened to be gay. Someone asked him about marriage equality and he said that he didn’t think it would be a big deal in Australia because most gay men weren’t really interested in getting married anyway. My take is that in the United States, marriage still clearly has great significance to everyone, whether they be gay or straight. Everyone wants that stamp of approval, of official acceptance on their love life because unlike the rest of the world, the faith in our institutions hasn’t completely eroded to the point of total irony. And regardless of where anyone falls in this debate, it’s a good thing.

    • Corey

      I agree with you on the still importance of marriage in this country. It is nice to realize that our institutions both governmental and civil are still institutions here, despite their widely reported demise.

      I think a lot of the reason we don’t see open discrimination as much in homosexuality as we do in racial discrimination is that you can hide your sexuality. The ability to hide makes it easier for people to avoid being abused and as a consequence eliminates the need to institute widespread structural barriers. Openly gay Americans is a recent development of the last 20 years. We are not far out from a time where if someone did come out, all of their success would be annihilated by prejudice.

      And the point isnt if we think homosexuals are being repressed, it is if THEY think they are. Of course the majority wouldn’t think having marriage isnt setting them back, because it doesn’t matter to them.

      Legally we’re both on the same page here I think, but philosophically I think the mentality that two guys or girls being married is less somehow than a guy and girl marriage is still a thing we need to work through as a society. We need to be equal both in law and in practice. We’re getting there, but it takes time.