Published: June 9, 2013
Shawna Kemppainen is pleased sexual orientation is a daily conversation topic in the realm of sports.
She's watched with appreciation and interest as Jason Collins and Brittney Griner in basketball and Robbie Rogers in soccer recently announced they were gay. Still, she looks forward to the day when the conversation ends.
Kemppainen works as executive director of Urban Peak, which offers aid to homeless teens in Colorado Springs. Until a month ago, she worked with Inside Out Youth Services, which offers help to gay teens.
I spent a challenging, entertaining 25 minutes talking Friday with Shawna, who says she identifies as a lesbian. She's been thrilled to watch a procession of athletes willing to say, without apology, who they truly are.
"We'll have to talk about it until it's not an issue," Shawna said. "It will be great when everybody really is treated equally and fairly and when who you love or who you are dating is not an issue any more. Sexual orientation? I will be more than happy to move beyond that subject, but we haven't moved beyond that unspoken rule yet,"
The unspoken rule is, Shawna said, to keep sexual preference to yourself if you are gay.
Griner, for one, busted that rule. She wrote a thoughtful, funny New York Times essay that revealed the bullying she has endured since the seventh grade. (She also revealed an intense devotion to bacon. "The greatest food of all time," she wrote.)
What struck me about the essay was Griner's relaxed tone. She wrote about casually telling her mother about her orientation in the ninth grade. Her mother hugged her, and Griner climbed the stairs to her room.
No big deal.
Griner is one of the greatest female basketball players ever. She could become the greatest ever. She's 6-foot-8 and routinely dunks, swinging on the rim in glee.
But she's much more than a mere athlete to Shawna.
"She didn't just slam dunk the ball," she said. "She cleared the boards for hundreds of lesbian athletes to say I'm going to be who I am in my life and if someone asks me I'm going to tell them and not worry about it."
I realize not all of you join Shawna. I realize many wish this sexual orientation discussion would depart our daily sports lives. This discomfort might have nothing to do with opposition to gays and their hopes. Many fans want sports to be all about fun and games.
Only it doesn't work that way.
Sports is a complicated destination. We escape the rigors of our lives by watching games and arguing about strategy and officials and trades. We sit in arenas and stadiums and in front of our TVs as we attempt to fly away from troubles and despair.
But reality has this habit of invading the sports world. America's quest for racial justice played out on our sports fields beginning with a history-altering first step by Jackie Robinson. Our culture's overuse of pills came back to haunt us as we watched a long line of pharmaceutical freaks, led by Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong, pollute our games.
And as we decide where we are headed when it comes to acceptance of sexual orientation, we will experience this drama while we watch our games.
A procession has been started by Collins, Griner, Rogers and a few others. Remember, there are 3,450 athletes competing in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. The procession is nowhere near finished.
We're just getting started.