Column: Jim Mora opens door for gay football players at UCLA, hopefully leads to more coaches following
UCLA head coach Jim Mora should be commended for a job well done so far at UCLA. Many were critical of the hiring of Mora during the 2011-12 coaching carousel but I had an optimistic approach to the move and believe it would be a good fit for the head coach and football program, both looking to get back on to a more nationally respected level. It took just one year for the coaching hire to start paying off in my eyes. UCLA earned a return trip to the Pac 12 Championship Game last fall and showed off some new offensive wrinkles along the way. Following that Mora put together a recruiting class that let the rest of the conference know the Bruins are done playing second fiddle. There is still some work to be done before Mora and UCLA can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Stanford and Oregon from the Pac 12 North but they have taken giant steps toward becoming the top team in the Pac 12 South, and are more than equipped to challenge USC for Los Angeles bragging rights.
But what has impressed me more than any of the on-field and recruiting victories over the past year at UCLA has been the recent development that sees Mora entering uncharted waters for a football coach, at least at this level of play. Mora became the first major college football coach to encourage gay athletes to come play for his program.
Mora participated in a recent video produced by UCLA to join in the “You Can Play” campaign that is aimed at opening the doors with no fears for homosexual student athletes.
As Graham Watson notes on Dr. Saturday, the Yahoo! college football blog, former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said in 2010 he would welcome a gay student athlete to play for Ohio State. While Tressel may have welcomed a gay football player on his team, Mora is the first to take part in a public campaign to open the door.
I generally try to avoid political or social issues when covering sports, but given the numerous stories over the past few years tying sport and homosexuality together and with the world continuing to evolve in social standards, it is beyond time to address this topic. I also feel that to address the topic I need to share my views on the subject for clarity.
For the record, I support gay marriage and do not believe that marriage is a reserved right for a man and woman. I applaud states who break down this social barrier by granting marriage rights to gays and lesbians and roll my eyes at anyone who will counter by suggesting the Bible, a document now centuries old, remains the lone resource for determining in this day and age who can and cannot be married. If you oppose gay marriage, you are more than entitled to your opinion and stance. I just feel differently on the subject and hope that those who want to be married, can be married. But I am straying slightly off topic here. The point is those who are gay have a number of reasons to be concerned about coming out and living the life they want to have.
No aspiring student athlete should be prevented from playing a college sport of their choosing just because of their sexual preference, just as nobody should be kept from going to school or working a job they want just because they prefer a person of the same sex.
“At UCLA, we play with integrity and we honor diversity,” Mora says in the UCLA video. “We respect all athletes and coaches. If you can play, you can play. And if you can coach, you can coach.”
I try to understand the complexities and concerns those who are gay have in coming out and allowing others to know. Certain social barriers still exist in everyday life, let alone the sporting world. I like to think we have come a long way as a nation but I am in no position to make that claim.
Over the years we have seen coaches throw out homophobic slurs and pay the price for it. I remember Penn State students protesting the accused homophobic bias of women’s basketball coach Rene Portland in 2007. Just within the last couple of weeks disturbing video of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice tossing out homophobic slurs as often as he was chucking basketballs at his players led to his dismissal. It is the actions of these supposed leaders who have made it more difficult for some to cross that hostile social barrier. That is why it is important when visible coaches like Mora stand out in motives like this video, even if it is just a brief reading of some scripted lines.
Just today New Zealand became the 13th nation to formally approve gay-marriage. This nation is not alone in needing to go farther to provide human equality. The problem extends beyond this country’s borders, and the best way to pave that road is to start one block at a time. In this football-crazed country, if college football programs in the most public of eyes and the NFL can achieve that level of openness and acceptance, then perhaps that will help with the greater cause.
It is my sincere hope that Mora is not the last coach to deliver this message of acceptance to prospective student-athletes. This is more than a recruiting message for Mora. This is a message of humanity.