commentary – by Michael T. Myers
On Monday, you couldn’t turn on a television or the internet without seeing the news that a pro-athlete had finally come out of the closet.
Jason Collins, a 12 year veteran in the NBA told the world he was gay in a Sports Illustrated column. “I’m a 34 year old NBA center, I’m black and I’m Gay,” Collins said.
So how does this all tie into NASCAR…. I am not sure, but free lance journalist Viv Bernstein posted a blog on Monday that stirred up some strong feelings in NASCAR and on my Twitter timeline.
Typically, even on a busy work day I check in on Twitter a few times. This week, I’m in Denver for training classes and wasn’t able to check Twitter until after I got out of class…. and my timeline had ASSPLODED.
It took me a few minutes to trace it back to Bernstein’s blog titled, “NASCAR’s Silence on Jason Collins Says It All.”
Says what all?
Bernstein’s assertion is that the sanctioning body and NASCAR drivers should have made public statements on Monday supporting Jason Collins, and that lack of comments, sent a clear message to any gay people working in the sport.
Appearing on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio, Bernstein was pressed by Dave Moody as to what message she thought NASCAR was sending with their silence, “Stay in the closet.”
I find this to be absurd on many levels. Mostly because I know many gay people who work in NASCAR. Some of them are out publicly, some are out to friends and family. None of them have relayed any stories of intolerance at the track.
Two years ago I profiled an openly gay couple that works for Michael Waltrip Racing. When Craig Wadsworth was asked if had ever been given a hard time while working in the garage, he said, “I don’t have any problems at all – they all know it (that I’m gay) and nobody seems to mind.”
Ty Norris, the Vice President of Michael Waltrip Racing told Q4G, “Michael Waltrip Racing is a reflection of all society. We are a welcoming workplace who cares only about the quality of people’s performance and Craig is an exemplary employee.”
I have been very OUT at the track since 2009 and I have only encountered one incident of homophobia.
In fact, the overwhelming acceptance that NASCAR, the drivers, other media, the tracks and fans have shown Queers4Gears is amazing and should shatter any stero-type Bernstein’s blog seems to enforce.
Bernstein used the expression “Crickets” several times on Twitter to stress that no one in the NASCAR world was talking about the gay issue. But, that’s not exactly accurate.
The fact is, our current Sprint Cup Champion and one of the highest profile drivers in America, spoke out a few short weeks ago about how he thought an openly gay driver would be accepted in NASCAR. In an exclusive interview with Queers4Gears, Keselowski said, ”I don’t think anyone cares (if a driver is gay.) If you can win, you’ll have a ride in NASCAR. If you can win, people will want to be a part of what you can do.”
That doesn’t sound like Crickets.
The Keselowski interview was picked up by several national publications and it upset the loony “God Hate F*gs” Church so much that Westboro came to the race in Kansas to protest NASCAR and Keselowski. The sentiment in the garage and on social media was almost universal…..”those protesters do not represent my Christian values. A few fans invited the protesters to “get out.”
At the time, NASCAR’s Chief Communication Officer, Bret Jewkes told Q4G that they agree with Keselowski’s statement and they will stand behind their driver.
That doesn’t sound like Crickets.
Bernstein wrote, that she wasn’t sure if NASCAR’s silence about Collins was a “nod to Nascar’s predominantly conservative Southern fan base.”
I think the statement by Keselowski to Q4G and NASCAR’s willingness to stand with him, are a nod to the fact that NASCAR is indeed inclusive.
Is there room for improvement? Sure – that’s what I am trying to do here!
I organized a counter protest of sorts and asked NASCAR fans who didn’t agree with Westboro’s anti-gay rhetoric to support me in the Las Vegas AIDS Walk. NASCAR fans responded – I raised over $3,400.00 and was the third highest fundraiser in the entire AIDS Walk.
You know the old adage – a persons money does their talking……….. and in this case, NASCAR fans supported an openly gay blogger in a big way.
That doesn’t sound like Crickets.
I will agree with Berstein that Monday presented an opportunity for someone from NASCAR to come out in support of Collins. But I don’t agree that there is any timeline for issuing a response. While a statement on Monday, could have ridden the social-media wave, it also could have been lost in the weeds of a million tweets.
About 24 hours after the Collins story broke – NASCAR issued two statements:
Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Multicultural Development said, “NASCAR is a recognized leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives in professional sports and home to the best drivers in the world. We want our athletes and our sport to look like America, and exclusion or intolerance of any kind – whether behind the wheel, on pit road, or in the garage – is not a part of that formula.”
Brett Jewkes, NASCAR’s Chief Communication Officer tweeted, “Over past 24 hrs reporters sought/got comment on NASCAR’s diversity efforts, of which we’re very proud. We admire Jason Collins’ courage.”
I was okay with waiting a day to hear what NASCAR had to say. If you are keeping score at home, that’s TWO statements from NASCAR’s Chief Communication Officer in less than a month affirming NASCAR’s commitment to diversity….. specifically in regards to a gay driver.
That doesn’t sound like crickets to me.
Finally, I want to say how important it was for Jason Collins to come out of the closet. It’s true that being gay in 2013 just isn’t that big of a deal…. but it once was. I just turned 40 and I didn’t come out until my late 20′s. I could not have imagined coming out when I was younger to anyone…..
But, do you know what made it possible for me to come out? Other people coming out.
I am not only talking about about celebrities… but the average gay citizen.
The reason attitudes have changed over the past decade is that people came out of the closet. Everyday people then realized some of their family and friends were gay, and that made the topic of “gay rights” personal.
I have talked to tons of people that told me just knowing a gay person changed their mind on gay issues. No longer were gays the butt of some joke on a sit-com, but gays are people that we all know and love.
The more people that come out – the easier it is for others to come out. As more people come out – attitudes in our culture will shift even more. I am hoping these changing attitudes will prevent anymore gay teens from taking their own lives and they will understand that It Gets Better. It sure did for me.
We still have a lot of work to do, but I am grateful for how far society has come.
Perhaps, just perhaps, as the machismo world of pro-sports accepts Jason Collins, other gay athletes will come out.
And that can only be a good thing.