By Chipp Reid, Sports Editor
With 6,000 miles between then, two events that meant to help spread the message of inclusion have opened the door to the question: When is enough, enough?
Örebro Hockey, for its February 21 game against the Frölunda Chiefs, donned rainbow-colored uniforms as part of an inclusion event to show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. Following the game, a 4-2 Örebro win, flamboyant goalie Julius Hudacek led his teammates in a rendition of the Village People’s “YMCA.”
Aside from the uniforms, the team and the organization's entire staff marched in the city's pride parade and held a lecture on LGBT topics. The club also encouraged fans to wear rainbow pins and buy limited-edition game merchandise.
"Pride game is a way for us to show social responsibility and take a clear stand for the equal value. Pride game is more than just a game, more than just a stunt," said a statement on the team website.
Meanwhile, in Port St. Lucie, where several Swedish soccer teams, including AIK and Malmö FF hold pre-season training camps, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy raised more than a few eyebrows when he publicly declared his opposition, on religious grounds, to the “gay lifestyle,” after Billy Bean, an openly gay former Major League player, visited the Mets’ training camp as baseball’s “inclusion” ambassador. Murphy, a devout Christian, said his attitude toward any openly gay teammate would be to love the sinner but loathe sin. It is a stance that immediately opened him to ridicule and anger.
My question is why? Murphy was quite candid in expressing his views. He told the New York Daily News in an interview March 3 that he understands that gay people would take offense to the term “lifestyle.” Murphy said, “That’s why we’re having a conversation right now. And I completely understand why someone who believes it is not a choice, that you’re born with it, would take issue with my beliefs, that it is a lifestyle.” But Murphy stuck to his religious guns, saying he could easily accept a teammate who is gay while disapproving of that person’s lifestyle. The Daily News sports writer, Andy Martino, made it clear he disapproved of Murphy’s belief and hinted he believed Murphy’s religious views should change.
When did this become part of sports? There is nothing wrong with using sports as a vehicle for teaching racial tolerance, social inclusion or any other important lesson that helps people live together in something approaching harmony.
The problem comes, quite frankly, when those lessons become bigger than the game. How many extra tickets did Örebro sell for its LGBT inclusion night? Örebro averages 5,190 fans for its home games; 5,085 turned out for LGBT night. Did fans stay away because of the event or because the weather that night was horrid (snow and freezing rain)?
Very few fans probably attend a sports event, whether it’s a Swedish Hockey League match, an MLB game or a local football match looking for social lessons. They go to the see sport.
It is absolutely correct for teams to use this venue to help those fans behave properly toward another. My question, though, is this: What would happen if a group of vocally religious players (there are A LOT of born-again Christian athletes or those who claim to be) decided to hold a prayer vigil following a game? Right there. In the stadium. In front of everyone. More than likely, the same groups that preach “inclusion” would trip over themselves rushing to a court to stop the vigil or would organize a very loud “protest.” And that, sports fans, is wrong.
Inclusion means inclusion — no matter what the viewpoint. Just because one particular group doesn’t agree with another’s viewpoint doesn’t make that group wrong. It simply has a different opinion, and in a free society divergent viewpoints are supposed to be a good thing. There were no reports of protests or anyone voicing displeasure with inclusion night in Orebro. Just the opposite. It gave Örebro goalie Hudacek, who is known for his on-ice antics and crazy post-game celebrations — and his legions of fans — a chance to wear yet another wacky outfit and lead his fans in what had to be a fun moment. (Anyone who has been to a Yankees game knows the sixth-inning routine in which the grounds keepers dance to YMCA while grooming the infield, an event that is a fan favorite.)
And yet, there must be room for the Daniel Murphys on any team or in any crowd. Not everyone agrees with, as Murphy put it, the LGBT “lifestyle.” Whether it is a choice or genetic isn’t a question for the sports field. As long as there are events that attract large crowds, there will be the pressure to use those opportunities to advance a particular agenda. Sometimes, this is good, such as the Swedish Football Association and FIFA effort to stamp out racism in soccer, the NHL, MLB and NFL support in the fight against breast cancer and other such causes. It is wrong, however, when the cause opens those who may not support it to ridicule and reverse-discriminate because of their beliefs.
We may not agree with Örebro for celebrating LGBT inclusion. Personally, I am ambivalent toward it, although I have my own thoughts on the B-T part. We may not agree with New York Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy, who adheres to his religious teachings. However, we must, must, celebrate both viewpoints because to squelch one in favor of the other is to throw away the one value every athlete and fan treasures most: freedom.