The good fight: a farewell to Olbermann

There is no media journeyman like Keith Olbermann. Over the past three decades he has left or been fired from shows, both sports (including an almost uncountable number of stints at ESPN). His Countdown show enjoyed popularity on MSNBC, before being exiled to Current TV- the Siberian gulag where journalists went and were never heard from again.

After a two-year contract, he’s been let go from Olbermann, an obscure ESPN2 program that generally competed with marquee live sports on the other ESPN channels. I’m not surprised it’s ending, as nobody watched it live and the YouTube content (which was most of my exposure) had pretty dire viewing numbers.

Plenty of people are sick of Keith and his shtick, and while he’s never been able to pick his battles, some of his battles were important and I’m glad he gave them due coverage. It had excellent coverage of the NFL’s negligence on domestic violence, the griminess of the Angels’ treatment of recently-relapsed drug user Josh Hamilton, and how many sports teams took money from the military in order to showcase seemingly-altruistic ceremonies to honor veterans. These are important things, and Olbermann was a merger of the pundit-heavy cable news style of sports show, and the more serious and provocative Outside the Lines. However, Outside the Lines never compared bizarre player statements and press releases by teams to the church scene in Blazing Saddles, where the minister thanks a crotchety old sourdough for his “authentic frontier gibberish”.

July, 8 2015 show https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZSNS79kuHc
July, 8 2015 show
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZSNS79kuHc

So maybe that’s why I liked the show and many people did not. It had that strange mix of culture callbacks and jokes that I find funny, material that was intentionally dated and different from most sports shows, that tend to stay near to the present.

Thanks for letting this show run for two years. While his material on MSNBC was pretty forgettable once Rachel Maddow became a better alternative for liberal pundit shows (if you were into that sort of thing), this was the best in its field, mostly because it made its own niche that nothing else quite fits into.

Michael Sam, and what a LGBT milestone is

File:Michael Sam final Mizzou home game.jpg
Credit: Michael Qwertyus // License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

This weekend has been dominated by the coming out of Michael Sam, an elite college football defensive end, who helped lead the University of Missouri to an incredible season. Coming out as he looks towards the NFL draft and a promising pro career, he is an interesting landmark for American athletes.

I wrote an article last April about veteran NBA player Jason Collins, and his decision to come out. With each high-profile individual that discloses their status as an LGBT individual, the question of landmarks versus normalcy stick in my head. I ended the Collins article remarking:

So Collins is a member of another, more neglected front of the gay rights struggle. When he came out two days ago it was national news. Part of the goal is that one day an athlete will come out, and it’s not a media spectacle. It’s just someone living their life.

It’s clearly still a media spectacle, one managed for maximum effect, as a behind-the-scences feature by Outsports shows. It depends on the fame of someone and the nature of their fame. The last two years have seen several journalists announce their homosexuality, and in that area it’s certainly not headline news. Athletic competition is another world, and there is some sort of informal hierarchy of gay-friendly sports- in some one’s sexual orientation isn’t considered important, in others it can be.

American football is considered a hostile environment. Not without evidence- witness gay-friendly punter Chris Kluwe’s legal fight about homophobic coaches who may have kept him off the team. Strange, I feel, than an individual’s contribution to the fight for equality varies so much on unrelated traits. Race, religion, national origin- Mary Cheney gained much media attention and support because of who her father happened to be.

To some extent, this has always been true. While many Civil Rights icons were known for their organizing ability, their tenacity, their charisma, others are known for their odd place in history- the Little Rock Nine were courageous and some led impressive lives after the crisis, but their place in history is not about their qualities as people. They were not any nine, they were the nine.

There is a great inequality in our innate importance in struggles for equality and justice, what we carry by virtue of who we are. It’s more than that, however. Even with the rise of a Michael Sam- an elite-level athletes entering the prime of his career- in the long run those gay athletes and their allies who will make the difference do so by their long-term commitment to organizing and fighting for change. Athletes, gay and straight, who support the You Can Play project that fights casual homophobia, march in LGBT pride parades, and use whatever fame they have to speak out can do great things even if their own stories aren’t groundbreaking.

A big name coming out as gay is symbolic. But it’s progress is also symbolic, and must be underscored by action to mean something years from now.