New York Rangers hockey player and team "enforcer" Sean Avery is speaking out in support of gay marriage in New York State as part of an ad series sponsored by the left-wing Human Rights Campaign. He was profiled in glowing terms in a New York Times news story by John Branch in Sunday's sports section, "In Rarity, a Player Speaks Out for Gay Rights." But how have the paper's columnists treated athletes who take conservative stands?
Until now, supporters have come mostly from the worlds of politics, entertainment, theater and fashion. One type of New York celebrity was conspicuously absent: the athlete.
Enter Rangers forward Sean Avery.
He recently recorded a video, becoming one of only a few active athletes in American team sports to voice support for gay rights, and is believed to be the first in New York to publicly advocate for same-sex marriage. No active male player in a major American team sport has declared his homosexuality, and homosexual slurs remain in use to insult opponents and officials.
Avery, a 31-year-old from Pickering, Ontario, has played nine seasons in the N.H.L. Known as a fashion-conscious, on-ice agitator, he has never been afraid of what others think of him.
Branch even spun Avery’s on-ice controversies in his favor:
Avery has long been viewed as someone unafraid to set off on his own. In the past few years, he has worked as an intern at Vogue magazine and been voted "most hated" player in the N.H.L. In the 2008 playoffs, he gained notoriety for waving his arms and stick in the face of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. That tactic, which made hockey purists cringe, was quickly banned by the league.
Avery joins a short list of active athletes showing support of gay rights. Among them, Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, recorded a video statement for Equality Maryland earlier this year.
But as Times Watch reported in May 2010, while the Times praises liberal political symbolism by athletes, its columnists chide athletes who chart more conservative terrain.
Here's the paper's former columnist, and Duke lacrosse smear artist, Selena Roberts , on tennis star Jennifer Capriati, from a March 26, 2003 column, "Women on Tour Out of Tune." Capriati had requested a particular song by Outkast be played during her pre-match warm-up in support of the troops in Iraq (the war had just begun). The song included the chorus "Bombs over Baghdad." Capriati’s explanation: "I wanted to support the troops." Roberts sniffed:
Politics aside, her logic was questionable. How uplifting is a song illuminated by such abrasive lyrics? But Capriati made a wish, and it was granted. Star power has its privileges on the women's tour, but it is often misspent on petty demands instead of tennis reform.
Times sports columnist Harvey Araton actually faulted the Duke women's lacrosse team in a May 26, 2006 column for supporting their fellow male lacrosse athletes falsely accused of rape. (The women's team wore headbands that read INNOCENT at a lacrosse match.) Araton even questioned why college administrators had not intervened to stop the women:
Innocent until? Presumed innocence? Those are sweatband statements that would be more palatable. Even then, does cross-team friendship and university pride negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke? Has anyone -- from the women's lacrosse coach, Kerstin Kimel, to the Duke president, Richard H. Brodhead -- reminded the players of the kind of behavior they are staking their own reputations on?