Kudos are being given to Jim Tressel by sports writers for his willingness to answer a few softball questions about leadership and team diversity in Outlook Columbus, a gay news publication. “That Tressel answered questions at all from a magazine that bills itself as ‘a lifestyle and advocacy publication’ for the local gay community is enough,” wrote Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel.
ESPN Big Ten blogger’s Adam Rittenberg writes: “Kudos to Tressel for doing this and addressing a subject that is still very taboo in college football … His voice matters, and his message of acceptance comes through here.
FanHouse’s Michael David Smith: “That’s progress, and something for which Tressel deserves a great deal of credit.”
These days social progress takes place in baby steps and if merely speaking to a GLBT publication is one of them, so be it. It shows just how far we still have to come before sports culture can embrace a tolerant attitude towards sexual orientation.
There was nothing wrong with what Tressel said, of course. His vague messages (not once is he actually quoted saying ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ or ‘same sex’, etc.) about tolerance and diversity are ideals that should be practiced in any organization. It’s what he didn’t say that shows where we are as a sports society. He never addressed truly difficult questions about policies that would affect real change for gay men and women, such as same ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and same sex marriage laws.
One coach, Tony Dungy, a more beloved and admired coach than Tressel (and at least equally as religious) commented on the latter three years ago when he said he “embraced” the stance of a conservative religious organization to ban same sex marriage.
It would be unfair to put words in his mouth, but it’s hard not to deduce that Tressel, a known religious conservative, likely shares some form of these views. At the root of these views is the belief homosexuality is a choice and it is something that can be “treated.”
Again, this isn’t to assume Tressel believes these things necessarily. But it’s just as important to keep in mind that he said nothing to suggest a view opposite to this.
Which is probably why the most substantive takeaway from the article – that he would supposedly embrace an openly gay player on his team – is being misunderstood. In order for an openly gay athlete to feel comfortable on a team, shouldn’t that individual first feel comfortable in the larger society? Until Tressel, and the people who celebrate this interview as some huge step for mankind realize this, and start embracing policies that advance equal rights for gays, we won’t see openly gay athletes anytime soon.