When it Comes to Gay Athletes, the Only “Distraction” is the Media

Jason Collins battles on the block with Dwight Howard (Photo: rpgwebgame.com)

Jason Collins battles on the block with Dwight Howard. (Photo: rpgwebgame.com)

A pivotal moment not only in the history of sports, but of human rights occurred last year when NBA veteran Jason Collins came out as gay. Collins’ announcement made him the first openly gay man in the four major American sports. However the 14-year veteran would wait patiently in free agency for a team to sign him.

A few short months later, NFL prospect Michael Sam revealed that he was gay. The star linebacker out of Missouri joined Collins on the front line of tolerance in U.S. professional sports.

Both of these guys are as tough as they come, contrary to dead-wrong stereotypes that are manufactured by bigots. Sam is a 6’2”, 260 pound defensive end who is menacing in stature and play style. His 11.5 sacks last season were good enough for co-defensive player of the year honors in the SEC. You could say Sam brings down quarterbacks and stereotypes with equal force.

Collins is a 7-footer with a specialty in setting devastating screens and providing the toughness only a savvy NBA veteran could. Unfortunately in the early stages of his time with the Brooklyn Nets this season, an opposing player used a gay slur to try and intimidate Collins. It didn’t faze him, and he went on to tell Bleacher Report:

“As an individual, as a person, as a human being, you have a lot of different hats that you wear. Whether you’re an athlete or a human being trying to empower and help others. I’m trying to, again, empower and help others in any way that I can.”

Collins and Sam prove that it doesn’t matter who you love, what you believe or how you live your life; success in sports comes from dedication to the craft and acceptance of who you are.

The Worldwide Leader in Overreacting

There’s no doubt that the locker rooms of their respective teams are willing to accept Collins and Sam. If you help the team, who cares what you do outside of the sport? That’s the attitude of pretty much every levelheaded player in the NBA and NFL, but the media seems to think that a gay player in the locker room is a distraction of massive proportions. While the presence of a gay player may influence other players to watch what they say, the dynamic of the locker room isn’t in danger of being destroyed, but don’t tell that to the worldwide leader in sports.

ESPN has held debates (its favorite kind of “journalism”) over the last few months about the so-called gay player “distraction”. Herm Edwards and Chris Broussard have provided ass-backwards opinions, Skip Bayless has said his usual moronic things to gain attention, Stephen A. Smith has been as loud as possible—in short, nothing’s changed in Bristol.

But with a topic like this, there’s no room for ESPN’s new brand of stupidity. While their personalities quarrel over whether or not a gay player is a distraction, they’re creating the distraction.

And we wonder why so many gay athletes stay closeted. The barrage of attention paid to the non-sports part of their lives is too much to handle. NFL great Deion Sanders spoke with NFL network about the subject, and said he played with one or two gay players on every team he was on. Everybody knew it, nobody judged and nobody cared. They were worried about football and nothing more. If that’s not proof that the media is at fault here, I’m not sure what is.

Michael Sam is a force to be reckoned with (Photo: chicagophoenix.com)

Michael Sam is a force to be reckoned with. (Photo: chicagophoenix.com)

A Step in the Right(s) Direction

The LGBT community’s fight for equality in life and in marriage is the human rights struggle of the 21st century. What Collins and Sam are doing is impressive, but let’s not forget that many female athletes have paved the way: Billie Jean King in tennis, World Record swimmer Diana Nyad and most recently, Brittney Griner in women’s basketball. While these are a select few of many brave sportswomen, countless since even the 70’s have come out either during or after their careers.

Griner isn’t your average girl. She’s 6’8” with a near seven-foot wingspan, a dominant shot-blocker and the #1 pick in the most recent WNBA draft. So why wasn’t her coming out such a hotly debated issue on the major sports networks? Won’t she make her fellow WNBA players uncomfortable in the locker room? There wasn’t much of a peep out of ESPN when this news broke, they interviewed Griner once and that was that.

Yet again we’re dealing with the issue of stereotypes. People see lesbian and transgender people in women’s sports and think of it as more “normal” than a gay or transgender person participating in men’s sports. This idea that male athletes are supposed to be your traditional definition of a man and that female athletes are less feminine than other women is absurd. The world, especially America, is a melting pot of various beliefs, creeds and orientations. Sports are no different.

In order for professional sports to provide equal treatment for all, we need to rid our minds of absurd stereotypes and sports media needs to treat an LGBT athlete no different than any other. It’s only a distraction if we make it into one.

UPDATE: On April 9th, UMass guard Derrick Gordon became the first male college basketball player to announce that he is gay. ESPN must have learned their lesson, because they covered this story in a concise, respectful and objective manner.

NFL Determined to Deny the Concussion Problem

Photo: Mel Evans - Associated Press

Photo: Mel Evans – Associated Press

“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me…it’s painful.”

Suffering the effects of a thousand hits and crunches in his NFL career, Hall of Fame running back  Tony Dorsett is beset with memory loss, suicidal thoughts and bouts of rage. His family, he says, is often terrified of him.

Dorsett is merely one of many current and former NFL players paying a bitter price for football glory, as the bill comes due for all the concussions they endured on the gridiron.

But the NFL, the organization that has made millions–no, billions–from these athletes, has kept its own head firmly in the sand.

Meanwhile, a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is running amok in present and former NFL skulls: rotting brain cells, smothering memory and inciting uncontrollable anger. Its symptoms can mimic those of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, and it is now the functional equivalent of dementia.

CTE was discovered in the course of an autopsy after the premature death of retired Pittsburgh Steelers center Michael “Iron Mike” Webster. Dr. Bennet Omalu found symptoms of a new disease, the first tangible evidence that football can lead to permanent brain damage.

Autopsies, in fact, have proven to be an important tool for neurologists. However the NFL strongarmed Dr. Omalu to keep the Nigerian-born specialist from examining the brain of Junior Seau–the fearsome all-pro linebacker who at age 43 shot himself through the chest. NFL agents told Seau’s family that Omalu was a “witch-doctor,” prompting Seau’s 22-year-old son to send the good doctor packing, without the brain.

So much for the National Football League’s good intentions.

But Tony Dorsett wants to get at the truth. He agreed to join a UCLA study that has so far found signs of CTE in eight fellow retirees from the league. Dorsett knows how terrible a toll CTE takes–as he told ESPN recently, he can’t even drive his daughters to their soccer and volleyball games:

“I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there.”

Photo: Martha Irvine - Associated Press

Photo: Martha Irvine – Associated Press

Ignorance is Bliss–or is it?

Most known victims of CTE are older and retired, like Dorsett. But in 2009, when Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was killed in a car crash, his autopsy revealed signs of CTE. The difference? Henry was only 26, a five-year pro in the early stages of his career. He had never been officially diagnosed with a concussion, either in college or the NFL.

If someone as young as Henry harbored this disease, who is to say there aren’t seventeen and eighteen year-old high school players developing CTE as we speak? Do we really want football, a sport that builds character and mental fortitude, to slowly deteriorate the minds of the next generation? It’s a hidden yet apparent contradiction–one the NFL seems hell-bent on ignoring.

In an elaborate show of official concern, the NFL set up the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee in 1994 to “study” the connection between football and brain trauma. So they hired Dr. Elliott Pellman, a rheumatologist with no experience in neurology, to lead the way. Rheumatologists are specialists in muscles and ligaments. Sure, a lot of football players are muscle-bound, but why not appoint someone who knows something about the problem, like hmm…I don’t know, BENNET OMALU?

It’s like asking a dentist to perform open-heart surgery. You know he’s unqualified for the job, but the fact that he has a PhD is enough to convince you of his preparation.

So far the Pellman committee has published 16 academic papers denying serious long-term effects of concussions for NFL players. U.S. Representative Linda Sanchez of California compared the NFL to a historically evil and convoluting industry:

“The NFL sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies, pre-90′s, when they kept saying, ‘no, there is no link between smoking and damage to your health.’”

The league’s response to studies connecting football with serious brain injuries can easily be compared to big tobacco. They fear the destruction of their image, yet are destroying it in the process by covering up facts and ignoring possible solutions.

A Game in Jeopardy

An NFL doctor conceded:

“If 10% of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”

Well, looks like football is heading for the cliff. According to ESPN, participation in youth football has plummeted. Pop Warner lost 23,612 players in 2012, a 9.5 percent drop from 2010. That dreaded 10% that will “end football” is fast approaching, but will that mean the end of the sport, as we know it?

To prevent football from disintegrating from the top down, the National Football League must acknowledge–not stonewall–the connection between football, head trauma, and CTE.

And simple 15-yard penalties or measly fines aren’t enough to deter vicious hits. Any player who attacks another player, with his helmet as a weapon, should be ejected from the game and kept out without pay for a minimum of one game more, pending league review.

Football can be saved. It’s a matter of doing what is morally and scientifically right, not trying to protect a tough image. I love watching football. However I can say with full conviction that I will never, under any circumstance, let my children play it.

Sports build character and allow kids to develop social and physical skills that they can use later in life. Football does just that, but unless some serious change occurs, it will destroy the lives and minds of thousands of young men for years to come.

Perimeter Projections: 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers

by Ryan Clarke

Damian LillardOne issue continuously plagued the Portland Trail Blazers last season: depth. After acquiring Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Dorell Wright, it’s safe to say that the problem is likely solved. Last year ended on a sour note for Portland as they dropped thirteen straight games en route to a disappointing 33-49 record. With added depth and a much-needed shot-blocker in Robin Lopez, Blazer fans can likely say goodbye to the lottery for a while.

Projected Record: 46-36, 6th in the Western Conference

Portland’s strength of schedule gets tougher down the stretch, so if they’re aiming for a playoff spot they have to start strong. Their first lengthy road trip pits them against three beatable squads (Boston, Toronto, Milwaukee) and one title contender (Brooklyn). Coming out of this trip 3-1 or 4-0 will be essential for this young team to build confidence.

That confidence is going to be very necessary during a three game stretch in late November as Portland takes on three powerhouses in four nights (Chicago, Golden State, New York). Other games of note include Greg Oden’s return to Portland in a Miami uniform (Dec. 28th), and a late-March five-game road trip with stops in Chicago and South Beach. You can find the Blazers’ full schedule here.

Projected Depth by Position:

PG: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Earl Watson

SG: Wesley Matthews, Will Barton, Allen Crabbe

SF: Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright

PF: Lamarcus Aldridge, Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland

C: Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard

Robinson, McCollum and Wright off the bench give Terry Stotts immense flexibility with his lineups. McCollum can take pressure off of Lillard by giving him a breather and in some cases, running the point alongside him. Wright’s three-point shooting stretches the floor without him being a liability on defense (*cough* Luke Babbitt *cough*).

Additionally, Thomas Robinson can come in to give Aldridge a breather or scoot Lamarcus over to the 5-spot. Robinson’s voracious ability to rebound and high motor is just what Portland needs to replace the likes of J.J. Hickson.

This is a team on the rise. Despite the fact that we’ve been saying that for like five years, I’m confident that Portland can only improve from here on out. Lillard will have no issues taking a leadership role; the guy just gets it.

As far as Aldridge goes, if he doesn’t want to be here then there has to be a way for Portland to get compensation for him. And by compensation, I mean difference makers. Not some ho-hum Tristan Thompson and a first-round pick type compensation, I’m talking about guys with as much or more potential than Aldridge. Names like Kevin Love and Chris Bosh come to mind, and anything less isn’t going to help the Blazers in the long or short-term.

Maybe a Thompson + draft pick type deal would help clear cap space to land a huge free-agent, but who the hell wants to play in Portland? Honestly? Sure they’ve got a great young nucleus in Lillard, Batum and company, but what superstar wants to chase a title in a city where it’s rainy or cloudy 9 months out of the year?

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love living in Oregon. I wouldn’t want to have grown up anywhere else. The people are friendly, the water is clean and the summers aren’t nauseatingly hot or humid. But the landscape of the NBA has changed. It’s more of a business than ever before. That’s why the Lakers, Heat, Knicks and Nets are far more likely to land top free agents or trade acquisitions. Great players want to play in big markets like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

However, there’s definitely hope for the Blazers with who they’ve already got. Lillard is an assassin on the court and a consummate professional off of it. A healthy Nicolas Batum is a walking triple-double with oodles of unrealized potential. Aldridge (if he sticks around) is the best all-around 4-man in the game. Portland is a lot like your first car. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t really look good and there are a few missing parts.

From the Back Row: Pacific Rim

by Ryan Clarke

Pacific Rim MonsterA movie like Pacific Rim can be summed up in two words: wasted potential. I mean, an original action film with stunning special effects sounds like a blockbuster right? Record-breaker at the box office? Nope, and it’s a damn shame.

The dialogue in this film was gut-wrenchingly corny. I haven’t rolled my eyes more while watching a movie in a very long time. Travis Beacham, the screenwriter behind the 2010 stinker Clash of the Titans, turned a great idea into an absolute atrocity. Maybe another profession is a better idea, Travis.

The romance between Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) can best be described as nauseating. They start out as competitors and witty rivals (a common theme with Pacific Rim‘s conflicting characters). Unsurprisingly as the movie progresses they become close, never intimate, but connected in a deeper way than just the mind-melding process necessary to fight off the enemy. Spoiler alert, they fall in love.

The mind-melding process or “drifting” creates a neural bridge between two people. This process is used by the pilots of robot war machines, called “Jaegers”. Imagine the iron giant with plasma guns for hands and a retractable 50-foot sword, and you’ve got a Jaeger. Their pilots train to defeat monsters who have escaped from the depths of the ocean, intent on destroying life as we know it. The “Kaiju” are towering beasts of epic proportion, flattening entire cities and mauling thousands in their quest for destruction.

Somehow I wish the Kaiju problem was worse for the human race, it would’ve distracted me from the fact that nobody in this movie could hold a conversation without a cheesy one-liner about friendship or romance or being a macho military man. I know I’m indicting this film on the charge of horrendous screenwriting, but hear me out: it wasn’t that bad.

Every action scene in Pacific Rim was awe-inspiring and truly exciting. Cut out the 45 minutes of egregious character development and you have a gripping summer action flick. The constant battle between man and beast, in both the ocean and the laboratory, forces the audience to root for every one of the B-List cast of characters.

Despite the atrocious screenwriting, Guillermo Del Toro displays his versatility once again with Pacific Rim. The guy has directed horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and more. With Del Toro-associated films it’s either feast (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) or famine (Mama, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). Pacific Rim is a little of both. You’re starved by the below-average acting and suspect screenwriting, yet you feast upon the splendors of mind-blowing action scenes.

Grade: C+

From the Back Row: The Conjuring

by Ryan Clarke

IMG_6285.dngThis article is the first ever film review posted on From the Perimeter. No longer just a sports blog, From the Perimeter will now feature “From the Back Row” film reviews by author and sole contributor Ryan Clarke.

As a fan of the horror genre, I went into The Conjuring expecting to be scared in the usual manner; a few jump-out-at-you scenes, disturbing images and things that go bump in the night. Little did I know that two short hours later, I would be psychologically disturbed in a way that I have never been before.

Director James Wan’s latest horror flick tells the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two renowned paranormal researchers who have investigated thousands of cases since 1952. Lorraine is a clairvoyant and medium who claims the ability to see the supernatural, and her late husband Edward was a well-known demonologist and author.

The Conjuring focuses on a particularly disturbing case from the Warren files. In 1970 the Perron family purchased a farmhouse in Rhode Island, and were subsequently tortured and haunted by vicious spirits and demonic presences. The film tells their story masterfully and in slightly exaggerated detail.

One thing that immediately stood out to me about The Conjuring was the near-flawless acting by the entire cast. Vera Farmiga captures a young Lorraine Warren  both in appearance and on an emotional level. Lorraine’s professed psychic abilities take a look on the bright side in the midst of all the supernatural chaos; she peeks into a positive memory surrounding a family portrait, sharing a special moment with the mother, Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor).

Wan takes an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach casting Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren, but it pays off indubitably. The star of Wan’s chilling Insidious franchise, Wilson’s portrayal of the legendary demonologist is believable despite sparse character development in the film. He and Lorraine’s relationship is displayed to warm the frantically beating hearts of those in the audience.

On the subject of character development; I was personally elated that there wasn’t too much of it. Nothing became drawn out or boring with the Warren’s backstory, and the same goes for the Perron’s.

My personal favorite character in The Conjuring was the father, Roger Perron (Ron Livingston). This guy epitomizes the 1970′s dad in every way imaginable with his mannerisms and kick-ass sideburns. My father was 13 in 1970 yet somehow I felt nostalgic watching Livingston portray Roger Perron.

As far as scary moments go, the film starts slow and strangely predictable. A bump here and there, pictures crashing, ominous clapping, all foreshadowing the living hell that will take place later on. That hellfire is ignited when the ghost of “the witch” leaps at one of the daughters from atop her dresser. From that point on it’s nonstop scares, screams, whispers, attacks and possessions that leave the audience on the edge of their seat.

You don’t have time to breath before you let out another scream during The Conjuring. I have never in my life been so disturbed, yet intrigued; frightened, yet thoroughly entertained. This film has changed the horror genre forever, and set the standard for all scary movies that have yet to hit the big screen. In my opinion, you will find no film scarier in the history of American cinema than The Conjuring.

Rating: A+