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Jews Prove Big Advocates for Gays in Sports

David Stern, Ben Cohen fight for recognition in less-welcome arena

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Ben Cohen on the pitch in 2009.(David Rogers/Getty Images)

As over the past couple of decades the cultural and even political worlds have rapidly moved toward acceptance of LGBT citizens, the industry and sector of society that has arguably lagged the most behind on this front is professional sports. Quite simply, in major men’s professional sports, there are no openly gay men. (And there are, surely, plenty of closeted ones.) Stories of homophobia are too legion to recollect them all; not a month ago, for example, Kobe Bryant called a referee a “faggot.”

But, as everywhere else, change is coming. The big story over the weekend is that the president of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, Rick Welts, came out. The whole story is insanely worth your time, but if I may cherry-pick from it, longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern—who was also Welts’s longtime boss, and was the subject of a recent Tablet Magazine profile—has been hugely supportive of Welts, not just now, as he has decided to come out, but during particularly dark days, when Welts’s (secret) partner died of AIDS-related illness. “Around 7:30 on the morning after Arnie’s death,” writes the Times’s Dan Barry, “Mr. Welts’s home telephone rang. ‘It was Stern,’ he recalled. ‘And I totally lost it on the phone. You know. Uncle Dave. Comforting.’” Stern and his wife quietly donated $10,000 in Welt’s partner’s memory to the University of Washington. “In thanking Mr. Stern, Mr. Welts said they ‘did the guy thing,’ communicating only through asides and silent stipulations.”

Meanwhile, the Times also profiled Ben Cohen, a just-retired rugby star, as well as a former top college wrestler who are two straight men dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. “It brings me to bloody tears,” says Cohen, who helped England win a World Cup, of emails documenting hardships suffered by gay athletes. (Cohen is straight—a husband and father, too—but even before his activism had a large gay fanbase, presumably because of his looks. The article also implies, perhaps, that Cohen’s father, who was killed in an attack outside a nightclub he owned, was gay.) UPDATE: Er, Cohen is not Jewish (though is descended from Jews). Um, my bad. David Stern definitely is, though.

“I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable,” Stern remarked of Welts’s brave act. “I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes.” Here is hoping he wasn’t. Some day, probably not too far off, an active professional male athlete will come out; and some day after that—if it’s not that day—a superstar will. Until then, though, Welts will be the chief hero on this front, secure in the knowledge that folks like Stern and Cohen will have his back.

A Sports Executive Leaves the Safety of His Shadow Life [NYT]
Two Straight Athletes Combat Homophobia [NYT]
Related: King David [Tablet Magazine]

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Minor correction: there is at least one openly gay, male sports player: Gareth Thomas, a Welsh rugby player.

Great cause, but it would be nice if the organized gay community reciprocated and came out in support of Israel, in these beleaguered times.

Pete says:

You know what would be great? When people aren’t defined by their sexual habits and a person’s sex life is kept to him/herself. It shouldn’t be important, but it also shouldn’t be broadcast like it is anything more than a sexual preference. The gay community can’t have it both ways. Either you are treated like everyone else, i.e that gay people are regular average citizens that just happen to have a different sexual orientation (which is correct), or like gays are a separate minority apart from the rest of society. My sexual habits don’t merit parades and special days – why should anyone else’s? Ok – now let the name calling (homophobic) begin…


If you walk like a duck and quack like a duck…don’t be surprised if people think you are homophobic (er…a duck). Heterosexual people express their opposite-attraction all the time. Whether it is in the media (e.g. bridal magazines, male/female romance films and novels, wedding announcements, etc.) or in their personal lives (e.g. wearing wedding bands, holding hands and kissing in public, photographs of opposite gender spouse/significant other in work area, etc.) Until you recognize that expressions of heterosexuality which permeate our culture can only be viewed as non-discriminatory when homosexual expressions are given equal weight and value, you will remain a homophobic “duck”. Sorry dude.

Pete says:

Well Ben, “dude,” I hate to tell you this, but, like it or not, the vast vast majority of society is heterosexual. So it would be expected that the majority of public expressions regarding sexuality would reflect that. I didn’t say that all public displays of homosexuality should be banned. But, like many of the left (if it walks and quacks like a duck, right Ben?), you counter an argument that I wasn’t making by calling me a name. Anyone who does not agree with the left’s agenda must be, racist, homophobic, Islamaphobic etc. etc. etc. Regardless, dude, what I actually said was that either homosexuality should not matter at all because it is only a sexual habit (we all have our own)and that is, at the end of the day, all it is. Or, if it does matter, the organized political gay community should not be making the claim that they are in fact just like everyone else.

That, man, was my point about the parades and flags. Gay people ARE just like everyone else, but to claim otherwise is always going to set gays off from the rest of society. I like women with long legs. Stop the presses! Write an article about men in sports who like women with long legs and throw us a parade! We can have a flag with two long legs on it. It would be awesome. And I am sure the turnout would be amazing. Look at us – we are so narcissistic that we need the entire world to know what turns us on. It is no different. I understand that gays were persecuted in the past, but it is time to stop the constant exploitation of that persecution for political gain. This is not the same society that it was two or three generations ago. Like in every other “minority” community, a small group of activists has been allowed, for too long, to speak with a monolithic voice for a group of people that have the same diversity of opinion as the rest of American society – and, in my opinion, it does the majority of gay Americans a disservice.

Daniel Brenner says:

Sorry — I’m going to have to divert from the pro-parade or anti-parade debate for a second….but I want to draw attention to this clip:

First openly gale male professional team athlete…..Andrew Goldstein. ESPN ran this interview with him


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Jews Prove Big Advocates for Gays in Sports

David Stern, Ben Cohen fight for recognition in less-welcome arena

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