[Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Tiger Beatdown! But wait: IS it your regularly scheduled Tiger Beatdown? Maybe it is not! In fact, it is definitely not! Because we are currently in the midst of VISIONS OF MANLINESS, a very exciting Tiger Beatdown THEME POST PARTYYYY (woo) staffed entirely by Some Dudes! Talking about things of concern to the dudes! Like: Sports. Yes, sports. Look, the sporting contests are of some keen interest to the gentlemen, apparently, all right? And you know what's fun, when dudes get to talking about sports with dudes: You start to get the sense of what ELSE they're talking about, while you're in the kitchen with their girlfriends discussing, I don't know, whether you're actually wearing the right bra size. Or something. Today's manly contributor is familiar Tiger Beatdown guestfriend B. Michael Payne. A man with feelings about sports! And about how people discuss them!]
April is for two things: The opening day of baseball, and the one line everyone knows from that one TS Eliot poem. Since it is the time of year when even staunch sports agnostics may see the game on TV and ask, Hey what’s the score?, it seems like a good occasion to write about sports. So let’s talk about homophobia in popular sports culture.
Drew Magary is a creative, intelligent writer. He’s a founding member of the once-funny sports blog Kissing Suzy Kolber. He is a published author with a real book. He’s been on TV. He now writes for Deadspin, the most popular sports blog on the Internet. I’d been a longtime reader of Kissing Suzy Kolber. (Let’s say, they were better before they signed to a major [blog] label.) When his book came out, I sat in Barnes and Noble, bought a large coffee, and skimmed almost all of it. I thought it was pretty funny! I think Magary’s funny and not at all rancorous. I’m sure his many, many readers likely feel similarly. He’s the cool older guy who’s lived in New York, and now he lives in the suburbs dispensing wisdom to a large number of 18 to 34 year old men. And it’s specifically this aspect of what I’ll call KSK culture, the “KSK Fantasy [sports]/Sex Advice Mailbags,” “Great Moments in Drunken Hookup Failure” (which could also be titled “Attempted Date Rape: The Ones Who Got Away”), and so on, that I want to talk about.
But you’re reading a feminist blog. Why do you want to read about men and sports blogs? Well, let me tell you. Magary’s (and let’s just say right now, a large section of sportsblogging culture of which I specifically selected Magary–because his writing is good and popular while being bad in popular ways) his effect on his readers is ultimately pernicious, atavistic, and culturally important to everyone in the way that cancer would be physically important to you.
There’s not a lot of coverage of gays in sports, but it’s obviously an important thing to talk about:
- My limited empirical experience shows that the most casually homophobic-seeming people tend to be the biggest sports fans — young men — who use and abuse their mouths in lunchrooms, on Xbox Live, on campus, in the office, at the bar, in your house, everywhere.
- Sports is one of the deeply proscribed spheres that tolerates close, casual contact among people of the same sex. The stereotypical ass slap (the ‘good game’), group showers, shared hotel rooms — all these are ingrained aspects of sports.
- The issue of homosexuality in sports is analogous to homosexuality in the military, which is frequently a pretty fucking big deal. Last week, retired general John Sheehan blamed genocidal acts in Bosnia on homosexuality in the Dutch military. Such claims, most agree, are patently in-fucking-sane.
On a related note, Drew Magary has a twice weekly question and answer column entitled “Fun Bags,” the idea for which he entirely did not borrow from Bill Simmons.
On 4 March 2010, a reader identified as ‘Trooper’ asks,
How long do you think it will be before we have an out and proud athlete in one of the four major American sports?
This is a more thoughtful brand of question than the Fun Bags usually see. Also, there is an answer to it, which means that Magary’s subsequent answer is actually, provably wrong, not to say completely unresearched. (It seems completely unresearched.) ESPN has an extremely thoughtful page, which is the first Google return for the search ‘openly gay pro athletes.’ It was published 18 December 1998, which is roughly twelve days after the Internet was invented. Not mentioned on this page is former NBA player John Amaechi, who came out after retirement.
I swear to god, I enjoy and appreciate Magary’s work roughly 54% of the time. And he gives a pretty reasonable-looking response to Trooper’s question.
It’ll be forever. Whoever does it will be someone who came out at an early age and enters whichever league an already-known gay quantity. I doubt you’ll ever see some guy who is already a pro suddenly pipe up, HEY! I’M GAY! There are a lot of reasons for this. First off, too many pro athletes are nutjob Evangelicals who fucking hate gays. How many white baseball players out there love to hunt and listen to country music? FUCKING ALL OF THEM. It’s uncanny. 75% of Rascal Flatts’ revenue comes from Major League Baseball players. Not the sort of guys who like themselves the gay. And I don’t think many Latino players are all that pro-gay, either. Very macho culture, as Razor Ramon taught me.
Stereotyping swaths of cultures as hating homosexuality seems a little broad-brush, but since I’m even writing this post, let’s accept Magary’s characterizations as eo ipso true. Many people hate homosexuality. Religious people are crazy. ‘Latino’ players—exemplified by a white, American wrestler play-acting an ethnic stereotype—are also too macho to tolerate homosexuality. Basically, to be gay is to be like a woman, and as this Tiger Beatdown makes clear (continuously), being a woman means you are bad. To be gay means to be bad, as well. Negativity is a transitive property based on what sort of external sex organs you want in and around you. Since all professional athletes of note are men, none of them are women. Therefore, none of them are gay. It’s unlikely there will be a professional gay athlete until there are professional women athletes (i.e., never).
Magary never seems to consider that the ‘very macho culture’ and Rascal Flatts-loving culture are created or at least reinforced by sports blogs like Deadspin and KSK. He treats them as a priori categories of human existence. As if country music preceded human existence. As if being masculine existed before men. As if our ideals of sexuality have existed as long as the houses of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. I.e., he’s just pointing out the cultural problem, which he’s not a part of and in no way influences with his hugely popular sports blog posts.
I’ll go ahead and freely admit now that, when I was in high school, I could easily be characterized as a homophobe. I used the word faggot all the time (even more than I do now!). I adored Dice Clay. I didn’t think gays deserved rights or anything else other than ridicule. I didn’t LIKE gays. At all. And not for any sort of bullshit moral reason. No, I was that way because I enjoyed it, and I suspect many other homophobes also hate gays simply because they like to hate them. I could blame youth or growing up in the ’80s for how I felt, but that’s a bullshit excuse. It’s embarrassing and shameful and I wish I’d never felt that way.
It didn’t take long for me to do a complete 180 on that old mentality and become extremely liberal in my attitudes towards gays and very supportive of gay rights. This is because I got older, settled down, and realized that inherently disliking gays (or any people outside of Duke fans) is pointless, stupid, and cruel. Some men need to grow up to reach that conclusion, and pro sports is an arena in which players are encouraged to NEVER grow up. Hence, HEY GUYS, GARY’S A FAG!!!!!
Also, Jimmy Clausen eats cock.
Let’s retain the closing rhetorical gesture because it’s probably important, but I’ll start at the beginning. I’ve emphasized Magary’s characterization of his homophobia as being ‘characterizable as’ rather than being a full-blown case of hating the gays. But then he goes on to say that… he liked to hate gays. Anyway, I don’t think he’s distancing himself from his past. He seems really sincere, actually. But it’s really difficult to start out a paragraph by saying ‘I was a homophobe,’ and Magary doesn’t do that above. But he seems genuinely troubled by his former antipathy for gays. He seems like a mature guy who’s actually met and liked some gays.
It’s well taken, his point that professional sports fosters in its athletes a state of perpetual adolescence. There’s probably something to that. When you’re asked to perform the same action thousands of times per year in basically the same manner you have since age 4, it’s probably hard to be very self-reflexive. Keeping athletes in a perpetual state of adolescence is a sort of noble lie. But I’m guessing most of Magary’s readers aren’t pro athletes; they’re expected to grow up. And it’s Magary’s ostensible maturity that’s the pernicious part of the entire situation. For all of his grown-up attitudes and profession that ‘gays deserve rights,’ he’s very simply and effectively transmitting homophobia in its natural state. When he concludes his answer by saying, ‘Also, Jimmy Clausen eats cock,’ it’s as if he’s giving a big wink to the audience. He’s saying, ‘Ok guys. We had our serious talk. Don’t bash gays. Keep it clean, go out there, and play hard.’
It’s as when the speed limit is 65MPH, but you can really drive about 75MPH, but in this case ‘speed limit’ is ‘gays deserve rights’ and ‘really drive 75′ is ‘Jimmy Clausen eats a cock,’ i.e., ‘homophobia is still very funny to me and very much of a part of my life.’
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Magary’s beliefs are like the beliefs of basically everyone about basically everything. There’s a supposed law of logic called the Law of the Excluded Middle, which says briefly that it’s impossible for a thing to be a thing and not be that same thing, simultaneously. You can’t be alive and dead at the same time. Of course, we know that that’s not true at all in practice. What about the person in a coma? The patient etherized on the table? The cubicle drone? People all over the world are simultaneously alive and dead. In the same way, Magary (and us, very likely) are simultaneously homophobic and not homophobic. Most of our friends who say things like, ‘That shit’s so gay’ are not the same people who would beat the living hell out of a homosexual. But the sedimented notions of sexuality perform a subtle alchemy on our day-to-day lives that leads imperceptibly but inevitably to casual rape culture, misogyny, hate crimes—all the ugly shit no one owns up to but everyone contributes to.
On 23 March 2010, someone identified as ‘Price’ tells us about how he heard about people talking about Dominican baseball players’ sexual habits.
I want to let you know about what many Dominican baseball players do when they first come to the US. In the Dominican culture, it is acceptable to have sex with another man. There’s a bunch of stuff I’m not clear on about it, but from what I’ve heard the “pitcher” is not gay because he just needs a release, and the “catcher” isn’t gay because he is just helping out a buddy. But in some cases, the “catcher” is gay if he enjoys it. I don’t know, something like that.
Anyway, pro teams in the US have to spend a lot of time with some players to break them of the “habit” once they come stateside.
To hear Price talk, it sounds like Mark Greif was onto something. Gays really are our utopian heroes. They destabilize and reshape the existing social order of… baseball. Their practices are a ‘habit’ that needs to be broken. But what does ‘habit,’ really mean, here? The habit is the causality mechanism by which we can essentialize, separate, and ultimately eradicate homosexuality. If the sexual act is normal, i.e., involves the mere insertion of the penis into a warm, dark opening, then it is not gay. Because that’s what guys do. Guys want to stick their dicks into someone. And it’s not gay if you’re simply a hole. Because women who get fucked by men are not gay; they’re a hole for the dick. The normal sexual algebra of fucker = pleasure, fuckee = no pleasure is staunchly heterosexual. As soon as the fuckee = pleasure, though. Well, that is so gay. Dude.
Of course, when we frame things explicitly, as such, they sound ridiculous. And so of course, the reader is meant to think, ‘Yeah those Dominicans are wicked fucking gay.’ So how does Magary essentialize the Dominicans?
HOLY SHIT! Well, of course, there is some precedent to this accusation, yet I have so many questions. First of all, given their rules of what is “gay” and what is apparently “not gay,” is it fair to say that the Dominican Republic is clearly some kind of island prison? If the catcher isn’t gay just because he’s helping a friend, how do we explain away the cuddling?
And what goes into de-gaying these players? Do they bring in one of those reformed gay Evangelical guys who is still CLEARLY gay, in fact gayer than ever? Do the coaches have buckets of cold water ready to deploy at all times? If a Dominican player gets horny, does the team have a stable of available pussy ready to deploy so that the horny player does NOT fuck a man? How many cocks has Sammy Sosa sucked? I bet he’s sucked a BUSHEL of them. Do reformed gay Dominicans suck on bats to wean themselves?
This is (not) a perfectly reasonable response. On the one hand, Magary acknowledges the complete absurdity of the ‘de-gaying’ process. It is fun and easy to indicate the hypocrisy of religious and political leaders who are ostensibly homophobic while engaging in homosexual activity. On the other hand, Magary is magnanimously homophobic in his caricatured depiction of Sammy Sosa’s sucking a bushel of cocks. Because it’s funny. It’s funny that men suck other men’s cocks. Isn’t that funny? That’s really funny. Maybe they suck on baseball bats because they’re not allowed to suck on cocks. That’s hilarious. Clearly, ‘gays deserve rights,’ but those rights come at the cost of being made fun of at every step. Women ‘deserve rights,’ but they’re basically nothing more than a hole to fuck. It is funny/true that there would be a ‘stable of pussy’ available on demand to de-gay the Dominican baseball players. That’s very funny and definitely signals to the reader that gays and straights are pretty much cut from the same cloth, are meant to be treated fairly and equally.
I find this shit fascinating. You know those assholes who decry all the Tiger coverage and are always like, “Well, I don’t care WHAT he does in the privacy of his own bedroom.” Really? I do. I totally care. I’ll never stop being intrigued by golfers banging porn stars and Pedro Martinez boning his midget. And you can eat shit if you think you’re all above that.
Ultimately, this is probably the most troubling and harmful takeaway from Magary’s (and sportsblogging’s, blogging’s, culture’s, the dominant heteronormative paradigm’s) work: We need to know about your business. We need to know if you’re gay or not because gaydar isn’t a real thing and we need to know whether we can 1.) trust you around our precious assholes; 2.) engage in pretty fucking gay stuff with you without actually being gay (known as the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Casual Homophobia For LOLz Corollary); 3.) make fun of you behind and in front of your back. Athletes’ code of sexual conduct needs to be in the open because it’s nearly impossible to essentialize professional athletes as homosexual. Pro athletes are practically eo ipso heterosexual, so we need to know what they do in bed. And if you think you’re ‘above’ that, then fuck you. (But not literally.) (Unless you’re a woman.)
Why is it important to know athletes’ sexuality? There are theoretical works and books by people significantly more perspicuous than us. My idea is that this knowledge is generally desirable because it’s interesting. It’s interesting to know that your neighbor’s upside down on his mortgage. It’s interesting to know that your boss has a cocaine problem. It’s interesting to know about people’s flaws. And to a homophobe, homosexuality is a flaw. I personally find it sickening that Magary tweets daily about his healthful life decisions, that he writes about being a parent, that he writes about his vague idea that ‘gays deserve rights’ while he continuously undermines the ostensibly mature thrust of his writing. Because he has a huge audience. His words reach, I surmise, fucking lots of people. Every week he likely receives hundreds of emails to publish, and every week he publishes a disgusting email about gays or women, thereby inviting more. Every week he thinks he’s doing good when he’s really only doing well.
I imagine his main defense would sound pretty cogent: ‘Hey, I just write dick jokes. I write about bowel movements. I write about fucking grown men wearing tights trying to hit a tiny ball with a piece of wood. It’s not important.’ But more eloquent people have made the same defense. (‘The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.‘) I wasn’t really impressed then, and I’m still not. Magary reaches thousands of people, and more importantly, most of his audience is comprised of the very people who are susceptible to homophobia. Because by his own admission and by my own fucking reading his columns all the time, we both know that his audience is immature, crass, young, and male. His audience is made up, very likely and in large part, of the homophobes.
So what I’m basically claiming is that, to use his own terms, Magary is a man with no balls. He fails to stand up to rampant homophobia and sexism because it’s fucking easy and it gets pageviews and makes him money. I’m interested to see if Magary has a set.
[B. Michael Payne web 2.0s at The Cost of B. Michael's Truly Epic Shit and various projects linked from there.]