Just a day after NBA player Jason Collins became the first active male athlete to come out in any of the four major North American team sports, Americans Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish announced their support for Athlete Ally, an organization working to end homophobia in sports.
Andy Roddick: “Yesterday was an incredible day for athletes everywhere. Jason Collin’s courage and leadership in coming out reminds me of how important it is for an athlete to be able to be true to him or herself. As an Athlete Ally, I want to support every athlete to feel comfortable and confident being themselves and to make sure that all people – players and fans alike – are welcome and included in tennis.”
Mardy Fish: “Everybody deserves a shot at playing sports. It shouldn’t matter in the least if that person is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Building community through healthy and inclusive activities should be one of the main focuses behind athletics, and that isn’t possible if you exclude LGBT individuals, especially our youth.”
Our quick take:
Amy: Though there have been high-profile female tennis players who have bravely come out, most notably Martina Navratilova (in 1981!), homophobia certainly still exists in tennis.
Several years ago, Justin Gimelstob made terribly offensive comments about the possibility of a male tennis player coming out, and Janko Tipsarevic also made shockingly ignorant remarks about both gay and lesbian players.
While perhaps some of the individuals in those situations may have evolved in their personal views since then, it’s unlikely that they are the only members of the tennis community who have made comments like that. So it’s wonderful to see Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish take a public stance on this important issue. Despite their absence from the ATP Tour as of late, both men are high-profile players, and their actions set the tone for other players on the tours.
In sports culture, it’s not only remarks like those two examples cited above that do damage, but also instances of “casual” homophobia, sometimes just in passing conversation or (unfortunately) common slang. Organizations like Athlete Ally and You Can Play are doing an admirable job to raise awareness about both kinds of homophobia.
Having tennis stars stand up for a cause that highlights the need for making gay athletes feel completely welcome in the locker room is the next step in hopefully one day eradicating these issues altogether. Thanks, Andy and Mardy.
Lindsay: There has long been a (false) assumption that because tennis is an individual sport and not one that requires team unity and contracts, that it would be more of a safe place for gay players to come out. In many ways tennis is very progressive, what with equal pay for women and the trailblazing coming out of Martina Navratilova. But, as we have noted in other ways here before, that progressiveness is often confined to the women’s tour.
The ATP has lagged behind other major sports recently in gay rights issues. Players regularly use homophobic slurs in their rants on court and are rarely if ever punished for doing so. As Amy noted, Tipsarevic and Gimelstob have both made offensive comments in the press with little to no backlash and no official punishment. Meanwhile, other team sports in bigger leagues with more media attention seem to have been leaning towards acceptance. The NHL has partnered officially with You Can Play, an organization aiming to end homophobia in sports. Kobe Bryant issued a public apology and filmed PSAs dismissing the use of homophobic language after he called an official a derogatory term during a game. Step by step, organizations are getting with the times, saying that “locker room culture” is not an excuse for homophobic and offensive language and acts.
Meanwhile, tennis has stood still, and yesterday when Jason Collins came out and words of support and congratulations rang across the greater sports community, I was left wondering if the tennis community was going to be left behind. And then Mardy Fish tweeted his support. Then Andy Roddick. And then even Justin Gimelstob. Today Roddick and Fish took it one step further with the announcement that they were joining the Athlete Ally foundation. Roddick and Fish are both very well-liked and well-respected in the locker room, even though Roddick’s retired and Fish is still on the sidelines. Their voice matters. A lot.
There are plenty of gay people in the tennis community. They are in the stands watching it. They are in the media covering it. And, even though they haven’t come out yet, they are in the locker room somewhere on tour as well. They are playing for their school teams, or hitting a ball against the garage door, or maybe just playing on the Wii and dreaming. Hopefully thanks to Andy and Mardy’s stance today, they will feel accepted and embraced. Hopefully this is only the beginning. Hopefully the tennis community will continue to stand on the right side of history.
Juan José: This is simply fantastic news. The positive snowball effect of Jason Collins is starting to be felt, in more ways than one (yesterday was apparently the biggest web traffic day in Sports Illustrated’s history, and the Washington Wizards – Collins’ last team – reported that all of their personalized online jersey sales yesterday were “Collins 98” jerseys).
This announcement made me wish Roddick hadn’t retired and that Mardy Fish was still in his top 10 days. The reason is simple: at the moment, neither Roddick nor Fish are in the proverbial “locker room” that Gimelstob painted in such a negative light five years ago. If Roddick were still active, and Fish weren’t dealing with his unfortunate health issues, their influence could be that much greater. This is the same reason I hope an NBA team signs Jason Collins to a contract for next season (Collins is an unrestricted free agent at the moment, which simply means that he doesn’t have a contract with any team): Jason’s influence as the leader of this cause would be much greater if he’s inside an NBA locker room.
Regardless, having Roddick and Fish involved in this movement is quite significant, because both of them serve as mentors to the younger generation of American players. Plus, there is still a chance Mardy Fish overcomes his health issues and becomes a fixture at the big events once again.
But here’s hoping that the premier figures in men’s tennis *cough* Big Four *cough* follow suit, so that the locker room has a constant positive presence regarding this very important issue.
Very good news indeed – and hopefully they will continue to be positive role models on this issue in tennis and other sports . Jason Collins is also to be commended , a pioneer in sports along the lines of the great Jackie Robinson .
Just curious though – and if I am misremembering I apologize to Mardy -but wasn’t he the one who used homophobic slurs against Gasquet when the latter was involved in rumors in the tabloids about his sexuality ? There do seem to be several eye witness accounts of varying credibility on this incident back at the US Open a few years ago.
If so – then good for Mardy for evolving and maturing . This may be an even bigger contribution to the cause of equality by admitting that he was wrong before .
One quick point that seems relevant, if also obvious: the ATP, unlike the NBA (or NFL, MLB, & NHL), is an international organization, not an American one. It is, to some degree, unsurprising that the ATP lags behind these organizations on social issues–because of both its relatively small size and its composition. On top of this, the fact that it is a traveling tour without strong ties to the specific communities in which tournaments take place makes a difference in terms of the sort of outreach the ATP does (or doesn’t, as is generally the case).
None of this is said by way of defending the ATP’s inaction or the ignorant or hostile attitudes of any individual player. However, I do think it’s worth mentioning that the whole world does not resemble the US–not even the whole US resembles the progressive view that we’re getting from Andy, Mardy, & much of the publicized response to the Collins news. I have little to no idea what the state of debate concerning LGBT rights is in GB, Switzerland, or Spain; but I do know what it’s like in Serbia–and it ain’t pretty. On the one hand, we can certainly hope players will reflect sophisticated, open-minded, cosmopolitan views befitting the lifestyles they lead. On the other, we must acknowledge that a) the ATP doesn’t offer anywhere near the kind of player development programming of the major American sports leagues (and that most tennis players, unlike the majority of their NBA & NFL peers, haven’t been to college) and b) players are products of specific cultures, many of which are more homophobic, sexist, & “traditional” than our own. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if players from non-Anglophone &/or non-Western European nations speak up on this issue, but I’ll also try not to be disappointed if they don’t.
These are really good points, Ana, and certainly all relevant to the discussion. Still, there are some things that are just common decency universally, and at some point you have to err on the side of being “too PC” as opposed to just letting everything slide. For me, this doesn’t just apply to the homophobic comments either, but to the racist comments (Llodra) and the sexist comments (too many to name). The ATP/ITF so often seem to turn a blind eye, refusing to flex their power to set any sort of social guidelines for the sport at all, bar actually kicking an official. It’s a gripe I have that has certainly bled over to this issue and perhaps confounded it. It’s, once again, the fact that the ATP tries to navigate the world as a player’s union/governing body hybrid, which so very often does not work.
All that being said, you of course have a much better grasp than I do as to the social intricacies of other countries, though there’s the hope that I think we both have–as faint as it might be–that professional tennis players who travel the world and represent a tour that has millions of fans of all varieties should be held to a higher standard. Also, I do know that a lot of other countries–Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Argentina, etc.–are more progressive at least as far as legal rights for same sex couples than even the United States is right now.
I was pretty pleasantly surprised when Roddick and Mardy stepped forward yesterday, and I do hope that others will eventually come forward as well, though like you I’m not holding my breath. But still, slow progress is still progress.
As we may or may not have discussed, Lindsay, I think the Llodra incident is an excellent–which is to say, revealing–example of how the ATP operates regarding social issues. Llodra was minimally fined after Indian Wells and later sent the fan in question a Lacoste shirt by way of apology (on his own or following someone official’s advice, I don’t know). That is, he was punished but not educated. If Llodra doesn’t “break the rules” in future, is it because he now understands why what he did was wrong or because he doesn’t want to get in trouble or get bad press? I’m sure plenty of people don’t think it’s the ATP’s job to help anyone learn what you call “common decency”; but, to me, how this incident was handled is indicative of very short-term thinking on the ATP’s part. Rather than putting out PR fires, they could do more to prevent them from starting in the first place.
“Roddick and Fish are both very well-liked and well-respected in the locker room”
Ummm…no, not by a long shot. Kudos to them for standing up on this issue but they are definitely not well liked and respected. There have been many instances of Mardy being a real asshole to other tennis players and Roddick has reportedly driven a couple of players to tears with his bullying.
Other than that point which jumped off the screen at me, good article. It was well thought out and well written and it’s an important subject which should be widely discussed.
We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, toot. Yes, they can both be bullies on the court–to a fault, for sure–but I really do believe that they are both respected and liked in the locker room by the majority of players. I’m sure there are exceptions, there always are, but their off-court personas are very different from their on-court ones.
Andy’s bullying of several players took place in the locker room, not on court. Because he gives/gave such good press conferences, the media for the most part loved him and presented a positive picture of him to American audiences. As for Mardy, the press didn’t pay much attention to him anyway but don’t ask any French players what they think of him.
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