Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sean Avery... Hero?

A really interesting dilemma is bubbling up on the New York sports scene right now, centered around one of the most controversial athletes to play here and creating a nexus between social issues confronting all of us and our desire for escape and entertainment.

The idea that Sean Avery has an unusual personality for a professional athlete is nothing new. Famous for once spending a summer as an intern at Vogue, infamous for the crude comments about ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert that got him run out of Dallas and traded back to New York, the Rangers winger long has been known for being anything but the typical jock.

That image was further reinforced over the weekend when Avery became the first New York professional athlete to endorse same-sex marriage, releasing a video for the Human Rights Campaign's New Yorkers for Marriage Equality drive.

A little background on the athlete: Avery is anything but an Alan Alda type, in case the description of his comments about Elisha Cuthbert escaped you (they were more directed at her then-boyfriend, to be honest). He's what you would call an "instigator," a title I aspire to often enough. For example, he once elbowed a goaltender in the back of the head while the play was elsewhere.

Perhaps "cheap shot artist" is a better title.

Anyway, he's not the kind of guy you would figure to take the side of the weakling. And yet, he's come out (er, no pun intended) in the past in support of gay rights, mentioning how his stints in New York and LA saw him interacting with gay men and lesbians regularly.

And hello!? Interning at Vogue was not exactly the most macho thing a hockey player could do!

But I get it. A lot of my instigation in various places is about defending people who can't defend themselves easily. I understand nuance and explanations, where many people assume that if you have to explain, you've lost the debate.

I suspect there's a large measure of "stop bullying" here.

It's sad that there is not one openly active gay athlete playing in any of the major professional sports in North America.

I emphasize "openly," because we can be certain there are plenty who are either deeply in denial about their orientation or feel they have to hide in a closet. And damn, closets are not fun.

Imagine school-yard bullying on a grand scale from people who really can harm you. And those are just the fans!

Now toss on top a heaping spoonful of lost product endorsements and the ability to put a few extra bucks for the eventuality of a forced early retirement from the sport, and you have enormous pressure for an athlete to pretend to be something he or she is not.

My position on gay marriage is a simple one: yes. Gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry each other. Period. The snark is that why should straights like me be the only miserable ones, but in truth, the issues run very deep. This world is a brutal nasty savage place, and only humans seem to have the capacity to make it even MORE brutal and savage, so wherever and whenever possible, we ought to find moments where we can help make it sublime.

There's little downside to same-sex marriage, and enormous upside for society. Even accepting the insane, outrageous and militant fundamentalist Christian position that God hates teh gheys, do you really care that they won't be getting into heaven for two reasons instead of one?

Meanwhile, couples can pay taxes and take vacations and openly be with each other. They can be happy. Or miserable. They can be human.

It makes you uncomfortable to see two men or two women holding hands or kissing?

Then you know how it feels for me to see a couple from some town in Pennsyltucky riding their Hovarounds down 42nd Street straining to lean over their enormous bellies to rub lips together to lick the last bit of barbecue sauce off. But I accept that as a gospel truth.