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Gays in the Jungle

(This story was published in 2002).

Sports talk radio, for the most part, is to intelligent discourse what pork rinds are to gourmet cooking.

The medium is populated (with some exceptions) by hosts who are loud-mouthed and obnoxious and callers who are clueless and obnoxious. It's ``Animal House'' on the AM dial with ``Bob from Biloxi'' the new Bluto. Not exactly the place one would expect to find a reasonable viewpoint on the issue of homosexuality in sports.

Jim Rome, though, goes against the grain. The most-popular sports radio talk show host gets generally good marks on the gay issue, according to a thorough and detailed 38-page study by David Nylund for the GLAAD Center for the Study of Media and Culture.

``I consider Jim Rome's anti-homophobic stance to be bold and courageous given the context and hyper-masculine discursive space of sports talk radio,'' Nylund writes in the conclusion of ``When in Rome: Heterosexism, Homophobia, and Sports-Talk Radio.''

Nylund, of the University of California-Davis' Department of Cultural Studies, listened to Rome's show for four months, from April 30 to Sept. 7, 2001. This was a very active period for the discussion of gays in sports, coming at the start of the controversy over Out editor Brendan Lemon and his mystery major league baseball boyfriend. (Outsports gave Rome good marks for raising the issue and offering often insightful analysis.)

Rome's whole shtick, from the ``Jungle'' to ``Have a take and do not suck" to his ``clones'' to his ``Huge take of the day'' give the impression of an on-air frat party three hours a day. Or, as Nylund puts it: ``Themes of misogyny, violence and heterosexual dominance appear to be recurring themes deeply embedded in the text of the program. Rome's persona exudes aggressive masculinity as well as unquestionable expertise and authority.''

Noteworthy Stance

Rome can be just as juvenile as the next talk show host, but he ``clearly positions himself as anti-racist and anti-homophobic,'' Nylund finds. ``This stance is noteworthy and a contradiction to dominant sports talk discourse. Rome uses his masculine authority to stand against intolerance that is often engendered by homophobia.''

For example, here is Rome addressing homophobic comments Chicago Cubs pitcher Julian Tavares made about San Francisco Giants fans last April:

``Julian Tavarez, a pitcher for the Cubs said this about San Francisco Giants fans--his words not mine--`they are a bunch of a-holes and faggots.' …You know, it would be nice to go a week without some racist or bigot comment…but no, Julian. Nice job Julian.

``…And here's a thought, Julian Rocker [a reference to John Rocker, a pitcher who became famous for making racist and homophobic comments during an interview in Sports Illustrated], just because San Francisco has a significant gay population, I would be willing to bet that not everybody at a Giants game is a homosexual. Maybe. Can't document that. Just a thought … I feel pretty secure in saying that … how does you come up with this garbage? I mean how do get to the point where the proper response to heckling fans is to drop racist, anti-Semitic, or homophobic bombs on people? And even if you had those bigoted views, you would have the sense to keep it yourselves. They might realize that not everybody hates everybody else. I think there is only one solution to this problem of over-crowding in the racist frat house. We are going to have to have honorary members.''

Rome comes off less well in his interview with major league baseball player Eric Davis, who said he would be uncomfortable showering with an openly gay teammate. Rome never challenged Davis directly or asked appropriate follow-ups. Instead, he wimped out, taking a mild swipe at Davis in a monologue a few minutes after the interview ended. It's a Rome trait to seldom seriously challenge his guests (the lion turns into a lamb) and Nylund calls him on it in this case.

``Rome's comments show his keen awareness of the extraordinary difficulties that would occur for an openly gay ballplayer. Yet, he shares his awareness in the safety of his `expert' monologue, not with Eric Davis present. He doesn't want to risk his masculinity by endorsing this unusually progressive stance in the presence of a famous ballplayer like Davis.''

Lesbian Sex

If Nylund applauds Rome for being generally sensitive to male homosexuality in sports, he gives lusty boos to what he deems the host's ``sexism and lesbian-baiting.'' Nylund contends that ``Rome has consistently `bashed' both the LPGA and the WNBA--both sports with lesbian visibility.''

For example, Nylund's relates commentary from Rome on his Sept. 7 show, where he discussed an article in ``Sports Illustrated'' that claimed that the former coach of Detroit's WNBA team, Nancy Lieberman, was rumored to have had an affair with one of her players.

``Not surprisingly, Lieberman is divorced from her husband right now. I can’t imagine why!,'' Rome said. ``I would think that your wife having a lesbian affair with one of your players would make your marriage that much stronger! Lieberman continues to deny the accusation. `I did nothing wrong. I was never in a relationship with her [the guard]. I mentored her to the best of my ability. If the media can write that Hillary Clinton’s gay, write that Oprah Winfrey’s gay, write that Rosie O’ Donnell is gay, I guess that is the hand I am dealt with. Again, I did nothing wrong' end of quote. Wow! Look Nancy, stop the lies! …

``She has inferior ability. You are kicking it with her by the pool. You don’t think your players are going to resent that? And leave Hillary, “Obese” Winfrey, and Rosie “O’Fat” out of this. I imagine they loved you tracking their name through this by pointing the finger at them as lesbians by the media.''

Nylund's analysis states: ``This is another instance of Rome’s loyalty to hegemonic masculinity. At first glance, Rome is criticizing the unethical behavior of a coach supposedly having an affair with a player. Further deconstructive analysis, however, reveals the structures of power and dominant discourses at work.''

In general, I found the analysis of Rome's sexism and lesbian-baiting to be the weakest part of his study, bereft of many specific examples, though Rome's referring to Oprah and Rosie's weight is a classic male cheapshot when discussing women (who have you ever heard call Ariel Sharon a big tub of goo?).

Opposing Views

One must applaud Nylund's thoroughness in approaching this subject. In addition to listening to the show regularly for four months (by now he must be an honorary ``clone''), he regularly read messages on Rome's Web site discussion board and interviewed 18 regular listeners in various sports bars.

The comments from some of the listeners are interesting in how they view Rome on the gay issue.

``Romey is like a sports sociologist with humor,'' a 24-year man told Nylund. ``He's entertaining. He's really into the gay issue. He's an advocate for gay rights. I respect him for it but because he speaks his mind. Personally, I don't care what gays do. But I don't think gays in team sports won't work because so many athletes are macho and homophobic.''

Rome as a champion of gay rights was contradicted by another man, who told Nylund: ``He's totally a hypocrite. Here is a so-called gay advocate on one breath and in the next breath; he refers to the LPGA as the `dyke' tours. And remember, he's the guy who got famous for calling Jim Everett, `Chrissie.' Plus, he panders to athletes and celebrities such as Jay Mohr. I was listening to Romey in May when Mohr called Mike Hampton [a baseball pitcher] a `gay Curious George.' Rome laughed at this and lauded Mohr's brilliant humor. He's not progressive. If he was, he would confront homophobes He's just another macho dude who's using social issues and controversy to gain market share, profits and more radio affiliates.''

The latter listener, while accurate is some ways, is perhaps too harsh. Given Rome's prominence on the sports talk scene and the makeup of his audience, his generally progressive views on the gay issue should be seen as positive baby steps and be encouraged. After all, we know that Rome wasn't built in a day.

Dan Patrick's

Luge Obsession

By Jim Buzinski

Outsports.com

I've always been ambivalent about ESPN's Dan Patrick, a SportsCenter anchor and host of a daily radio talk show.

His ``too cool for the room'' attitude and annoying Coors commercials are turnoffs. His excellent and often-penetrating interview style is engaging and informative. He comes across as a cut above most sports personalities.

Which is why I was bothered by his lame attempts at humor on his nationally broadcast radio show on Feb. 19 that used gays as the butt of his jokes. When called on it by GLAAD, Patrick later seemed apologetic.

Transcripts from the show have Patrick weighing in on the following:

"Our poll question today, which I'm sure will drum up some angry e-mailers, watching Olympic sports: Which one tests your manhood the most: two-man luge, ice dancing, cross-country skiing, or curling?"

"I won't let my son watch two-man luge 'cause I don't want him to grow up and be one of those lugers where you say, `Hey, you gotta climb on top of me. Oooohhhhh. Hey, come on. You've got your human condom on, all right, jump on top of me. Let's ride` " (Patrick's sidekick then said, "I wanna be on top." Patrick exclaimed, "Oooooh."

Reading a listener's e-mail: "Maybe not gay, but headed that way. Did anyone else catch [co-host Rob] Dibble saying that ribbon dancing was something he did at the beach? Please tell me what beach so I know not to go there."

On the same show, Patrick was speaking to a basketball contributor (I didn't catch whom) who mentioned he was recently engaged. Patrick them asked where the wedding would be, Hawaii or Vermont. Not catching on, the guest said the California coast, where he proposed. Hawaii or Vermont? Patrick repeated, before spelling out that those are the two states where gays go to have commitment ceremonies. A few chuckles from everyone and the interview continued.

Patrick was contacted by Cathy Renna of GLAAD about his remarks. While defending his right to say what he wanted, Renna said that Patrick ``seemed to get the impact of his anti-gay comments and was apologetic.''

I am curious as to Patrick's seeming obsession that day with gay sex; he seems at once revolted by it while fascinated enough to mention it four times on one show. Not being a regular listener I don't know if this was an aberration or not.

While not the most offensive things I've heard, his remarks nonetheless point to an ultra-macho, straight-guy, frat-boy mentality that has clear ideas of what real men do and don't do.

It also implies that Patrick would freak if his son grew up desiring men, and that good daddy Dan will do everything to steer his boy to the proper sports. I guess playing quarterback is out since that involves touching another guy's butt all game.