Ken Rosenthal’s article surveying MLB executives on how they would feel about employing a gay player is a clear reaction to the false concern of Peter King’s Sports Illustrated piece on the NFL. Its thesis is declarative and confident, the quotes breath with full context and view and the sources are all purposefully identified. Where King showed the NFL as an amoral boys club that shrugs “nothing to be done” in response to its own lack of humanity, Rosenthal has confident, clear-eyed men ready to face a challenging new feature.
Kenny Williams makes for a particularly determined closing stanza.
“‘Are you, as a leader of your organization, prepared to provide the young man the public and private support he will need along with controlling, to the extent you can, what the behavior is in the clubhouse/locker room?’ Williams asked.
‘If the answer is yes, then you have an opportunity to use what some see as a distraction and use it as an individual and team character-building opportunity along the lines of what Branch Rickey did for Jackie Robinson.
‘If the answer is no, then it is unfair to select him because like it or not, this will be a daily media/fan event and will need to be managed to keep everyone’s focus on the job at hand.’”
This is not simply bland encouragement or a noncommittal, tolerant refrain of “what people do in their bedrooms doesn’t matter to me,” it’s a mature and heady take on a topic that demands it. Williams asserts what NFL executives were quietly dreading; that any team that takes in a gay player will shoulder the responsibility–like it or not–of being the benchmark for how gay athletes will be treated in the MLB, and assures that he’s ready all the same.
The whole column is a triumphant moment for baseball and conjures images of more blatantly LGBT-inclusive promotion dotting MLB ballparks and a gay player starring in a White Sox uniform. But those are distant images, still.
Rosenthal does fantastic work securing these welcoming statements from franchise leaders across baseball, but there’s a difference between quotes from faces of an organization and quotes from sources and clubhouses. Somewhere beyond the spoken ideals of executives and how they view their franchises, is a sport as bereft in openly gay players as the notoriously backwards NFL.
As heartwarming as the words from Williams and his peers are, they are so confident and forthright that the gap between public attitudes and public practice become more stark. Hopefully this is the first step toward change, but if the feelings expressed by Williams and other had really trickled down throughout their organizations, they wouldn’t be such a need to speak them.