The Los Angeles Times published a feature column on Sunday about why gay athletes still feel unwelcome in professional sports. It's caused quite a stir. For the record, I was quoted in the piece and spent a couple hours talking with writer Kevin Baxter about the piece, so I might be a little biased. But I thought he did a good job of laying out the various pieces at work that keep gay pro athletes in the closet: The specter or religion, the blindness of the media, casual homophobia, and the fear of the unknown.
The hot topic coming out of the article seems to be the quote of Detroit Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter about his concerns regarding a gay teammate:
"For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it's not right," he says. "It will be difficult and uncomfortable."
Hunter responded to the article by calling Baxter a liar, saying on Twitter:
I'm very disappointed in Kevin Baxter's article in which my quotes and feelings have been misrepresented. He took two completely separate quotes and made them into one quote that does not express how I feel as a Christian or a human being . I have love and respect for all human beings regardless of race, color or sexual orientation. I am not perfect and try hard to live the best life I can and treat all people with respect. If you know me you know that I am not anti anything and to be portrayed as anti-gay in this article is hurtful and just not true
But Baxter isn't backing down. The writer told Outsports via email on Tuesday that he "perfectly represented [Hunter's] sentiments and beliefs." Hunter said he would be uncomfortable with a gay teammate, and Baxter reported that. Baxter said he covered Hunter for four years when the player was with the Anaheim Angels, and that religion plays no small part in Hunter's life. That's no big revelation: Hunter routinely quotes the Bible on his Twitter feed.
Having talked with Baxter and been given a little more insight into the reporter's full conversation with Hunter, I can tell you two things (both of which I suspected as soon as I read Hunter's attack on Baxter).
First, there's some stuff in there that Hunter should be thanking his lucky stars Baxter decided to not report. It wasn't germane to the story, and Baxter was right to focus exclusively on Hunter's comments about a gay teammate. But if Hunter is going to attack Baxter for not including parts of his comments, he should also be thanking him for it.
Second, Hunter's comment -- even the one that was printed -- just wasn't that bad; The problem is the conclusion that many readers are jumping to. Okay, so Hunter would be uncomfortable with it. He didn't say he'd hate the person. He didn't say he'd make life hell for the person. He'd be uncomfortable. And just like some people were uncomfortable playing with Jackie Robinson or other folks of opposite races, Hunter would accept his teammate and move on. Would he invite him to Thanksgiving dinner with his family? Probably not. Would he laugh at his jokes and encourage him to knock the snot out of the ball? Hell yeah.
Hunter's Twitter explanation actually gives us great insight into the mind of a religious professional athlete, and it shows how the locker room homophobia reported by the media is overblown and confused. Hunter obviously doesn't love the idea of homosexuality. He buys into the "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality. And a gay teammate would add some confusion in his mind. But he's just not going to injure the guy or make life hard for him. Just because someone says they wouldn't love it, that doesn't mean they'd hate it or that it would affect his play or the team.
An interview request sent to Hunter went un-returned.