|Students riot after "mourning" the firing of Joe Paterno, photo from Penn State Daily Collegian|
At the Federation of Gay Games we believe with all our heart in the value of sport. We describe our quadrennial event as "Games that change the world", and they have changed the world, and changed the lives for tens of thousands of men and women throughout the world.
If there is one intrinsic value to sport, it's "the rules": one rule for all, applied fairly and impartially. But Pennsylvania State University reminds us that there are the rules of sport, and that there are other rules that too often come not from sport, but from value systems outside of sport that use the cult of sport to do irreparable harm.
Think back to Rene Portland, coach of the university's women's basketball team, and her "rules" against homosexuality among her team members. These hateful "rules" even gave rise to the name of the documentary recounting her abuse: Training Rules.
For years, and until a federal lawsuit, Rene Portland's "rules" were considered more important thant the true rule of sport: that on the court, you are a player treated the same as everyone else, free from discrimination. The true rule is that sport must be a place, and for some people alas, it's the only place, where they are judged for what they do, and not who they are.
If Rene Portland got away with violating the true rule of sport for so long, it's because there's another "rule" that too often holds sway in sport: that winning is everything. Portland was a "winning" coach: so her imposition of her warped morals on her players was tolerated, ignored, and in fact never punished, as she left the school not under a cloud of shame, but after an "amicable" settlement, described by our friends at the National Center for Lesbian Rights as "insulting and inadequate".
Rene Portland was bad enough. But in the last few days we have learned of behavior in the Penn State sports department that has caused far greater harm. From the lowest level to the very top of the institution, the protection of the football program and the men who run it over the interests of so many boys violated by a man who used sport as a tool for his evil abuse is a result of the rule of sport above all, winning above all, money and image above all.
Action is being taken now, faster and stronger than that taken against Rene Portland. And what is the response of the students of Penn State? To riot in protest against this punishment. Maybe it's time not just to fire revered coach Joe Paterno, but to close down the entire institution. Can the trustees of Penn State believe they are doing their job of educating when the response of the young people they have in their charge is not shame in their school and its twisted values, and their own acquiescence to these values, but violent unrest at the smallest action taken against a man who seems at the very least to be an accomplice in a crime that most normal people consider one of the most heinous that can be committed?
Sport is neither good nor bad. When bad people use sport to do evil, those of us who believe that sport can be used for good are particularly incensed. We wish courage to those at Penn State, if they exist, who share our values of sport for all, of sport that can change the world for the better, To those who think the rule is winning above all, who have made college sport a machine for making money and generating blind loyalty and fanatacism among students, staff, alumni and the greater community, we say shame on you.
I was asked earlier this week if I thought that in an ideal future world without homophobia whether events like the Gay Games would no longer be necessary. I said no, because sport is still part of social life, and there would be a place for sociability among LGBT people. And I said I hoped that LGBT sport would continue, because beyond welcoming LGBT people, it offered values that "mainstream" sport could learn from, best represented by our motto of "participation, inclusion and personal best". This week Penn State has shown that "mainstream" sport has a lot to learn from LGBT sport.
We believe in sport for all, not sport above all.
-- Marc Naimark