With the topic of gay marriage and gay rights resurfacing recently — especially in the context of football, thanks to the efforts of NFL Bruins Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo — UCLA athletics took the correct stance on the issue.
In a short clip, various UCLA athletes and coaches officially welcomed gay athletes and coaches to their respective programs under the "You Can Play' campaign. Here's the video:
Good on 'em, and props to UCLA football coach Jim Mora especially.
It's important to note that other sports came out in support of gay athletes and coaches, and while those sports are no less important, none of them have to deal with the ultra-masculine, highly-visible culture associated with football.
Indeed, the topic of homosexuality is discussed quite often among football fans, coaches and players. If you don't watch football, you're still aware that the game is one that embraces an ultra-masculine culture. With guys of all body types flying around, looking to destroy another human being with brute force, it's no wonder why such a culture exists.
Of course, with that comes the stigma associated with being gay. In America, homosexuality is historically associated with being soft or, for lack of a better phrase, being feminine. As idiotic as this sounds, the association exists — or, at least, existed; slowly, such a relationship is being shut out — and it's one that has fostered an attitude of homophobia. If there's one thing in male sports that is vilified the most, it's being soft. (Look no further than the scrutiny professional athletes Tony Romo, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol have received.) Perhaps no one articulates this point better than Nam Le (a good friend of mine) over at Caliber Magazine:
For too long, America’s most popular sport has also been its most homophobic, in part due to its intensely physical nature and heavy dependence on masculine appearance. Indeed, masculinity is almost engrained into how we think about football – to the point that any mental image of a football player results in our imagining a hypersexualized hulking brute, snarling with aggression.
In short, what we often view football players as and what many perceive gay people to be are at odds – each is thought to be the antithesis of the other, even though nothing could possibly be further from the truth. Like any sort of people, those in the LGBT community span the entire spectrum of existence, from rich to poor to white to black to everything in between.
Since this association is most salient and prevalent in football, welcoming gay athletes is a monumental step forward, not just for the sport, but for society in general. At any given point in America's history, there seems to be at least a few groups that are marginalized and vilified by the general public, and until recently, gay people were included. Close-minded political conservatives have essentially tried to cast them away as less-than-human, while religious zealots choose to compare homosexuals to those who practice incest or bestiality. While those crazies still exist, they're thankfully fading away as the general public embraces other human beings' choices.
And Jim Mora's official welcoming of gay athletes and coaches perhaps signifies that this nation — though not progressed entirely — has made strides in breaking down long-standing barriers. As one of the first college football programs to officially open their arms to gay people, UCLA continues its reputation as being a producer of game-changers. (If you've already forgotten, UCLA's barrier-breakers include a who's who of iconic figures such as Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Tom Bradley and many others.)
But this is how nations progress, and this is how this nation progresses — through sports. For example, Jackie Robinson used sports as a way to change baseball from a source of entertainment to a unifying experience. People from all wakes of life can enjoy any sport they like, be they participants or spectators.
The theme UCLA set forth in its video — "If you can play, you can play" — did well in conveying the message that sexuality literally holds no bearing on performance. Not only does this phrase encompass attitudes such as the one presented in this post, but it also embraces the seemingly-abrasive, but totally straightforward football fan who tweets at you, "IDGAF if he's gay, can he play football?" While that seems offensive, making that the general consensus in America is the goal, with "play football" eventually being interchangeable with other phrases (i.e., "IDGAF if he's gay, can he work in this environment?"). Homosexuality should stop being seen as a trait to determine efficacy at any task, and should be seen as something that's merely a non-detrimental life choice.
Overall, UCLA's brilliant work (video editing aside; let's be real, the video editor really pooped the bed on this one) should be replicated across campuses nationwide. Doing so would further progress this nation so riddled by barriers and hostility towards outgroups.