Monday, March 20, 2006
by Wayne Besen
In high school, Jason Page played baseball, basketball and tennis while dating the captain of the cheerleading squad. He dreamt of becoming a sports broadcaster and following graduation, he began his career announcing minor league baseball games in far-flung places such as North Dakota and rural Maryland.
"In this business, you have to pay your dues, and I was willing to go anywhere to pursue my passion," said Page.
There was only one sacrifice Page wasn't willing to make: Staying in the closet.
At the age of 22, he came out publicly in the macho sports world, where homosexuality is still taboo. Indeed, not a single male athlete participating in a team sport has acknowledged he is gay while still actively playing. Page says the mentality in the broadcast booth is similar to that on the playing field.
"It is like a locker room without the uniforms," Page explained. "I am working every day with young people who come from all different parts of America. Maybe they never met someone who is openly gay. Just by existing I'm educating people and hopefully changing minds."
Like the movie Brokeback Mountain, which challenged the absurd notion that cowboys can't be gay, homosexual athletes and broadcasters also run up against irrational people unwilling to let go of cultural myths.
One just has to look at the bizarre opposition faced by organizers of the Gay Games, an Olympic-style competition for gay and lesbian athletes that will be held in Chicago, beginning July 15.
On March 6, a suburban Chicago park commission voted 2-2 to ban the Gay Games from hosting a rowing competition at Crystal Lake. The event needed three votes in favor to be approved and one of the commissioners was on vacation.
Peter LaBarbera of the Illinois Family Institute, a man best known for playing dress-up at gay leather parties under the auspices of "research," helped fan the flames of intolerance. He pressured the commissioners, calling the sporting event the "homosexuality games" and warned that it would lead to nudity and promiscuous behavior. Although, I still can't figure out how one would be lewd or lascivious with both hands firmly attached to rowing paddles? Perhaps, LaBarbera's time "undercover" in S&M porn palaces has fueled an imagination that could conjure up such physical contortions.
"I do not believe the Crystal Lake Park District should be a vehicle for the promotion of an agenda," said Commissioner David Phelps, apparently swayed by LaBarbera. He was seconded by resident Larry Reyer who told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I do not want these queers coming to my hometown."
Fortunately, the third commissioner came back and overturned the ridiculous and insulting vote. How spectacular a bigot does one have to be, after all, to virulently oppose a gay athletic event? What next, the Illinois Family Institute will propose separate swimming pools?
While the right is getting more fringe and shrill, corporate America is on-board and paying the bills. The Gay Games has 179 sponsors, compared to a mere 50 during the last Gay Games in Sydney, Australia. This includes corporate heavyweights such as Kraft, Walgreen's and Harris Bank.
"Times have changed in corporate America since 1994, the last time the Gay Games were in The United States," said Gay Games Vice Co-Chair Kevin Boyer.
What threatens the right wing most, however, is the 12,000 athletes that are expected at the opening ceremonies in Soldier Field. Their entire anti-gay industrial complex is fueled by stereotypes and lies about gay men and lesbians. Indeed, a central tenant to their "cure" for homosexuality is, you guessed it, playing sports. A sea of serious, committed and talented gay athletes not only challenges erroneous assumptions, but it also makes the theories of the far right look every bit as ridiculous as they truly are.
Still, Jason Page looks at his own story and says we have a long way to go before we overcome prejudice in the sports world.
"I'll never forget it," he wistfully recalls. "I walked into the locker room of a minor league team I worked for and one of the athletes screamed, 'fag in the locker room.' I still deal with people who tell stupid jokes or say inappropriate things, and I often challenge them on it."
Today, Page, 28, hosts "The Desk" an interview sports show on Sirius Sports 123, a station on the satellite radio network. He struggles with the unglamorous overnight shift and he often thinks about what his life would have been like if he had remained closeted.
"Look, there is no substitute for being open and honest. Yet, there is also no substitute for doing something you love. I hope I can remain out of the closet and also be successful in this business. Some days I still have my doubts. I just do my best and try to remain positive. But I'd be lying if I said it were easy."
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