On Your Marc: 5/31/16

It’s what’s on the scoreboard that counts

By Marc Katz

One day the lead editorial writer for the Dayton Daily News called me on my office phone to accuse me of not writing about Billie Jean King because she was a lesbian.

I told her I wasn’t writing about King because she wasn’t a very good player any more.

She won her last of 12 Grand Slam singles titles in 1975 at Wimbledon, and I didn’t start covering tennis until about a year later and didn’t attend my first U.S. Open until 1978.

I did have a tennis column that came out once a week, but it was mostly local and pretty much ignored King, as I remember it. What was I going to say, she liked women? What’s the next sentence?

I’m going to tell you a story I think is also true, but I really have no way of knowing if my memory is that good.

I’m going to tell you during my 41-year life as a sports writer, and the 28 years that have surrounded that, I wasn’t prejudiced against gays, lesbians or transgenders …

Or blacks, women, Hispanics or foreigners or anybody else.

But that’s just my side, looking out.

I don’t know what the other sides, looking back, were thinking.

Did I laugh at some of the off-color (we called them off-color in those days since being Politically Correct wasn’t the short-form usage) jokes in press boxes? Sure, I did. Did I offer some of my own? I’m sure I did.

I was hanging around sports writers, you know. It turned out some of them weren’t who they said they were, but I can’t remember which ones. Some of them were just trying to be funny. It didn’t matter to me.

All that mattered was up on the scoreboard, and if it was up there in time for me to make my deadline.

When the assignment came in for this issue, I immediately thought of the football player Michael Sam, who did not make an NFL team after winning the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year award two years ago—and after announcing he was gay.

I think if he really was that much of a player, he’d be in somebody’s lineup today, regardless of sexual orientation.

I started to think back of the athletes I covered who I knew were gay when I covered them.

Renee Richards was a trans woman who I saw often at the Open, but again, in my training, the skill was more important than the lifestyle.

It turned out she was too old to win the really big matches anyway, although she came close.

I just kind of put Renée Richards, who grew up as Richard Raskind, out of my mind.

I’m thinking now I could have put my voice in favor of anyone who was different from the norm, and that would have helped some causes, but I didn’t.

Martina Navratilova came out when I was covering some of her matches, and there was a period before that when I saw her a bit more sullen than she should have been at some media conferences. I didn’t know why, and didn’t ask.

It turned out she was having a tough time figuring out what she was going to tell her parents.

I covered Greg Louganis at the Indianapolis Pan-American Games in 1987. All I can remember is how good he was off the diving boards and not who he went to dinner with at night.

When I thought of it then, I figured I was just being accepting. I guess I was, but it wasn’t enough. I had a vehicle—through my sports articles—to say something positive about alternative lifestyles, and I can’t remember that I ever did.

During his playing career, I’m sure some people knew 1920s tennis great Bill Tilden was gay. They didn’t write much about it until after his career, when he was caught with an underage youth and served some time in jail.

I never covered Bruce Jenner when he was an Olympic decathlon champion, and didn’t follow him on television when he became one of the Kardashians. Frankly, I don’t understand what makes that family so interesting.

Then Bruce became Caitlyn and a cover girl on the cover of Vanity Fair and other magazines. I’m glad he had an outlet for his feelings, but I was more interested in how he trained as an athlete.

I’ve seen politicians who rant about the evils of homosexuality, calling on Biblical verses they don’t understand, then going out with someone else’s wife while leaving theirs at home.

I’m thinking there’s the double standard.

I’ve interviewed known alcoholics and gamblers and written their stories. Some of them were just bad guys—or gals. Others had a sickness they needed help to overcome.

I’m no doctor, but homosexuality isn’t something you change with medication. It isn’t something that should matter on the playing fields, either.

Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at katzcopsnsports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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