Update at 7:25 p.m.: After a day dodging questions, plus hearing an outcry from fans, the Seahawks are finally distancing themselves from a player's anti-gay remarks and saying an openly gay player is welcome on their team. See below for details.
Original post begins at 12:45 p.m.: It's been a week since Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons blew up sports pages and gay blogs when he said a gay player coming out of the closet would be a "selfish act" that will "divide the team." His point was clear: The gay player rumored to be coming out soon should stay in the closet. Seattle Seahawks management has been silent. I called and e-mailed their communications office about a dozen times to ask if the team believes it would be a selfish, divisive act for a player to come out. Do they think gay people ought to stay in the closet? Or just gay football players?
I finally heard back this morning.
"We're not going to comment," said Seahawks spokeswoman Suzanne Lavender. "You know, it's just his personal view."
The Seahawks are dodging the issue—the opposite of what the San Francisco 49ers did when they encountered a similar problem in January. When Chris Culliver, a cornerback on the 49ers, said gay players weren't welcome on the team, the 49ers management came out the next day with a full-throated denouncement: "The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday," they said in a statement released in January. "There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community.”
Why won't the Seattle Seahawks take a position on Chris Clemons's anti-gay comments?
"We haven't gotten that many fan comments so we are not going to make public comment," Lavender explained. But she refused to provide a phone number or an e-mail for the fans to comment. So apparently this is how it works: The team gauges whether it needs to make a statement based on how many fans comment, but—pysch—there's no way for fans to comment.
The team—and its fans—wouldn't stand for a Seattle Seahawk saying that a black, Asian, Jewish, Native American, or Mormon player would "divide the team." If Clemons can make this argument about his NFL team, with the implicit support of the Seahawks, then high school and college players can make the same argument about their team. Players at the UW could say Huskies need to stay in the closet or students at Garfield High School could say Bulldogs need to stay in the closet.
Just like the 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks play ball in a very gay-friendly town—a gay friendly town that voted to provide public financing for their $430 million stadium (and a chunk of that money is coming from gay taxpayers)—so why can't the team's spokespeople muster the courage to denounce Clemons' bigoted statement? Or, at the very least, publicly disagree with Clemons? Right now we have one statement from the Seahawks about openly gay players: "Not welcome in Seattle."
I know, some fans will downplay Clemons' comments, they'll say it's not the team's problem, they'll say that in football the rules of HR are sent to the sidelines and players need to shut their yaps. Sorry, haters. Gay people deserve the same rights to be honest about their relationships as straight people, no matter their profession. Gay people in football or any other job shouldn't have to live in silence and fear. Clemons was trying to bully a player from coming out. Again, unacceptable.
And the Seattle Seahawks are being complicit by being silent.
So long as the Seahawks let Clemons's anti-gay comments stand unchallenged, the team is condoning his bullying and giving its implicit blessing to treating gay people as second class workers. But they don't have to. The NFL recently recognized players—the former NFL commissioner gave an actual award—to players who have come out in favor of LGBT rights. NFL star Chris Kluwe has been aggressively supportive of gay rights, and in this guest piece on CNN yesterday he called bullshit on the idea that gay players create a distraction.
Be polite, be firm, and ask them to stand up for LGBT civil rights and LGBT players.
UPDATE at 1:35 PM: No big surprise, but the Seahawks apparently took down the contact page for their communications staff (it's not loading any more). But I took a screen shot of it ahead of time—because I figured they'd do this. So here it is: [Update at 7:25 p.m.: Now that the Seahawks have answered, I've pulled down their contact info.]
UPDATE at 2 PM: The Seahawks head coach Pete Carrol announced, coincidentally before I posted all this, that he's taking questions on Twitter. Many praises to Carlos d'Avis, who pointed out this tweet:
Who's got questions?? Let's fire up some Q&A! Will post video responses later today & tomorrow! #AskCoach — Pete Carroll (@PeteCarroll) April 2, 2013
You heard the man—fire up your Twitter and send questions to Pete Carroll.
UPDATE at 5:47 PM: Lavender just called to express her disappointment in this post, saying it mischaracterized their position, but she couldn't articulate the problem with it. I pointed out that the Seahawks have never disapproved of anything Clemons said or staked out a different position. "Wow. Bless your heart," she repeated four times. So I asked again if the team had a different position from Clemons—does the Seahawks management want any gay players on the team to remain closeted?—and she agreed to e-mail me a statement. I hoped the statement would make Seahawks management's position clear. It does not:
The Seahawks organization is guided by overall principles of acceptance and understanding that help us create a culture of respect, equality and inclusiveness both on and off the field. It is our goal to use these core principles and our commitment to passion, character and excellence to empower change within our community. We, as an organization and as individuals, represent and respect a wide range of human differences, personal experiences and cultural backgrounds. We have already begun to follow-up with every fan that contacted us earlier today.
The Seahawks are still avoiding the issue.
They're saying, essentially, that the Seahawks respect everyone and people can disagree. I can't imagine the Seahawks would say the same if a player said something anti-Semitic or racist. But since it's gay people and players we're talking about, the best the Seahawks can do is a mealy-mouthed statement that doesn't answer the obvious questions. Here they are again:
1. Do the team's coaches, managers, and owners want any gay players who might be on the Seahawks to remain closeted?
2. Would the team's coaches, managers, and owners regard a gay player's coming out as a "selfish act"?
3. Would the team's coaches, managers, and owners think a gay player's coming out as "divisive"?
Basically, all of the questions boil down to this: Does the team agree with Clemons or not?
We're still waiting for some clarity from Ms. Lavender on that. Bless her heart.
UPDATE at 7:25 p.m.: Ms. Lavender replied to my questions (the third time I've asked), saying that "we don’t agree with what he said." When I asked by e-mail again if they would welcome an openly gay player on the team, she said unequivocally, "Yes."