As a gay man and lifelong Red Sox fan, I was extremely disappointed by the Red Sox's recent “It Gets Better” video, the team’s installment in the series aimed at providing hope to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens, who are at increased risk for suicide and bullying. What is so striking about the video is that the three Red Sox players who participate — Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek and Terry Francona — actually never say the words “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual” or “transgender.” Most LGBT teens grow up in a world in which they feel invisible and isolated, a world in which their existence is largely unacknowledged. This video sends to them the message that who they are is unmentionable. In my view, the video does more harm than good.
The lack of an explicit reference to LGBT people by Youk, Tito and Tek is not surprising. Homophobia is deeply entrenched in the world of sports. No gay professional baseball, football, hockey or basketball player has felt safe enough to come out. There is a code of silence about LGBT players in sports. The Red Sox video, which is supposed to be a statement by baseball role models about the worth of LGBT youth, is instead a reflection of the subject’s continued taboo in the world of sports.
Given the varying silence or negative messages about being LGBT, young LGBT people need to hear from their role models that yes, gay is good. Instead, the Red Sox video is full of generalities and platitudes that are at best meaningless and, at worst, unintentionally demeaning. Is Jason Varitek’s comment, “It’s okay to be your own unique being” really telling LGBT youth that they are not like everybody else? Jason, it would have been so powerful to simply say, “It’s okay to be gay.” The Sox video demonstrates that it is still too risky for professional athletes to make affirming statements about LGBT people. Professional athletes are so esteemed in our society that their statements can be real “game changers.” The Sox missed a great opportunity to change the game for LGBT youth.
Bennett Klein is an attorney in Boston and plays left field with the Beantown softball league.