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Tom ruminates on the idea of a gay NFL player (and the new Jackie Robinson biopic)

The buzz on national sports-talk radio last week (besides the NCAA Tournament) concerned the rumor that a gay player in the National Football League was considering coming out.

To their credit (and/or eternal damnation), the folks at ESPN covered the "story" nine ways from Sunday, even trotting out their in-house business analyst to talk about how much money that guy would make after the announcement. Some pundits wondered what effect it would have on fragile locker rooms while others contemplated its impact on individual players, most of whom are not listed among the top 90 percent of graduates from their respective universities. One thing's for sure; the NFL will figure out a way to make money off it.

I thought back to when former congressman Jim Kolbe came out. He was a Republican in a Republican-majority district and had to have figured that his job was toast. But his big news was met with a lukewarm shrug by the public, which then re-elected him. The same for Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. He was the sweetheart of the right, a tough-talking, no-nonsense ex-military guy who was gonna crack down on those Meskins. He was always just a preening blowhard with a real easy target. Now, he's a gay, preening blowhard with a real easy target. Almost nobody cares.

This is not to say that it will go perfectly smoothly. A football locker room is an incredibly macho place and there is certain to be some pushback. Maybe some guy won't want to shower when his gay teammate is around. Or, worse, he might resent physical contact during practice. While it has certainly gotten better—and the better seems to be accelerating—there is still a whole lot of Stupid out there.

Remember the Titans is one of my favorite sports movies. Denzel Washington does his usual outstanding job, there are some great lines in it, and it reminds me of some of the things my friends and I had to go through in high school. However, there is one tiny subplot in that movie that absolutely drives me insane. When Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass joins the team from California, his long, flowing blond locks prompt team captain Gerry Bertier to label Sunshine "a fruitcake."

Later, Sunshine responds by kissing Gerry full on the mouth. They tussle, then later shake hands. Over lunch, some other guys on the team talk about it lightheartedly, with one player explaining away another's anxiety over the matter with, "Coach (has) kept Petey out in the sun too much."

Let me say this as nicely as I can. In the early 1970s, there was no damn way that an allegedly gay player would have been welcomed onto a football team. None. Not in high school, not in college, not in the pros. That entire subplot is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me; it's as though the gay-friendly Disney people who produced the movie tried to shoehorn it into the script and it turns out to be one of the biggest GTFOH (Get The F--- Outta Here!) moments in cinema history.

I grew up in a black neighborhood in Southern California during the civil rights days and I always considered myself rather open-minded. But I guarantee I would have struggled with it. I wouldn't have understood. I sincerely hope that I wouldn't have been one of the knuckleheads saying stupid things, but I can't even be sure of that. About all one can hope to do is to come to the higher level of understanding sooner rather than later.

A lot of the talk concerning the unnamed gay football player referred to Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color line in the late 1940s. I don't know if the analogy is perfect, but it's probably close enough.

(Speaking of Jackie Robinson, I really, really hope the movie that's coming out next week about him doesn't suck. It's such an important story. I'm afraid it's going to stink like that Red Tails movie about the Tuskegee Airmen did. Man, did that movie blow! It was like, "We'll spend millions on effects and $1.75 on the script."

One thing is certain. The upcoming movie (42) can't possibly be as awful as The Jackie Robinson Story. That movie starred Jackie Robinson as Jackie Robinson and he did a horrible job of portraying himself. It may be one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It's certainly in my top three of all-time awful movies, along with Love Story (for obvious reasons) and Eegah (look it up).

The Jackie Robinson Story did have the beautiful Ruby Dee as Rachel Robinson, but that's about it. The dialogue feels like it was written in crayon and the movie looks like it was filmed on used, discarded celluloid.

When I was growing up, they used to show the same movie on KHJ Channel 9 every night of the week and twice on Saturdays. I watched that movie every time it came on and I kept expecting it to get better. Of course, back then, I also believed that roller derby was real.

As for the gay football player, I hope it's somebody really good, like Troy Polamalu or Aaron Rodgers. Then the average fan can say, "OK, you're gay. Are we going to win next week?"

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