Friday, May 17, 2013

Black But Not Gay: The Jackie Robinson Story

Today I saw 42, the biopic about Jackie Robinson's first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Not a bad film; it did a fine job of showing Robinson's heroism, his struggles, his effect on other players and the game as a whole.  It could have used two or three fewer shots of doe-eyed children staring in rapt wonder while the soundtrack swelled, but aside from that, I thought it was a good piece of work.

There was one moment in the film, however, that I found odd and objectionable.  It occurs late in the film, when Robinson's white teammates have begun to accept having a black man on the team.  One of the white players asks Robinson why he always waits for the team to shower before taking his own shower, and when Robinson explains that he doesn't want to make anyone uncomfortable, the teammate says, "Take a shower with me."  He then twists himself into knots trying to explain that he doesn't really mean take a shower with me, but, you know, take a shower at the same time as the whole team.  Once that little misunderstanding is resolved, we get a shot of Jackie stepping into the shower room with the boys.

This scene, predictably enough, got a lot of laughs and disgusted noises from the audience--because, you know, it's okay to shower with a black man, but God forbid you should shower with a gay man.  Structurally, it's significant that only after the movie establishes that no straight player would consent to take a shower with a gay teammate is it possible to have the heartwarming scene of white players taking a shower with a black teammate.

What's going to happen when a gay man showers with straight men?  I'll tell you what's going to happen: nothing.  Given the numbers, I'm sure I've showered with lots of gay men, and none has assaulted me, propositioned me, or otherwise done anything inappropriate to me.  It's just a bunch of men taking a shower, after all.

It might be an exaggeration to say that gay athletes are the Jackie Robinsons of our day, though you could certainly make a case for it.  With pro basketball star Jason Collins coming out earlier this year, it may seem that this barrier in pro sports is about to come down as the racial barrier did almost seventy years ago.

But as 42 reminds us, we haven't quite rounded that base and headed for home yet.

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