Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Well, This is Going to be Interesting

Aspiring sportswriter Britton over at Kansas State University writes about Shalee Lehning, pre-arrival to Atlanta.

A quote:

However, it was more than optimism. With the final games of her career suddenly in question, Shalee turned to her strong faith upon hearing the news of her condition (mononucleosis).

"What she said to me that morning was 'It's in God's hands, it's whatever he chooses,'" Jane said. "I still remember her saying that."

Shalee knew she had to assure her mother about the outlook of her senior season. To console her, Shalee sent Jane multiple text messages quoting Scripture, including Jeremiah 9:11 and Proverbs 3:5-6.

These passages helped assure Shalee of her strength, and put the condition in the hands of her faith.

The role that religion plays in sports is a little bit different in the WNBA than it is in any other sport. In baseball, basketball, and football it's almost de rigeur for players to lean on their faith for inspiration/motivation, and to give public thanks to the Great Pitcher/Rebounder/3rd-and-Long-Specialist in the Sky. Most of the players come from backgrounds or cities where their faith is loud and showy. However, the worst flack that a player (or team) might get is that they are all bunch of "God-squadders" or "Jesus freaks". (As Tommy Lasorda said, "If it was God that helped you hit that home run, what was he doing when you struck out?") There will be teasing and jokes, but no true locker room conflict.

My understanding, however, is that the big schism in the WNBA is not homosexuals vs. straights. Most young straight women born after 1980 don't really care whether someone is gay or not. My understanding is that the schism in the WNBA is "out homosexual vs. out Christian". The male sports don't have that problem because the culture of macho is so ingrained that to this day, no male athlete from a major sport has ever come out of the closet during his playing days. (That closet must be pretty damned full right now.) In the MLB, NFL and NBA the tacit assumption is that all players are straight - a convenient fiction, certainly.

There is always the danger that a clash could result. A lot of WNBA players aren't publicly out, but they are out of the closet in pretty much every other way. I assume that most GMs simply pray that each side of the locker room can avoid deliberate provocations and everyone will get along - that the out homosexuals won't try to spark a Dykes on Bykes Parade in the locker room and that the out Christians won't try to prosletyze their teammates or jump on a soapbox screaming about The Lord's Fiery Judgment (TM). Even so, GMs are probably wary about out Christians - with a large percentage of WNBA fans being lesbians, and with many lesbians having been at the end of a "you're going to Hell" tirade (sometimes launched by their own families) it just takes a little bit of a spark to fire up the sensitive in a bad way.

But hey, Katie Feenstra got along with everyone as far as I can tell. I don't think Shalee Lehning will have a problem, either, if she makes the team. Thanking Jesus for getting over that knee surgery is one thing; quoting Leviticus is another.


Anonymous said...

she might as well stay home, there are no roster spots left honestly

Q said...

This is an interesting point pet...

But I wonder how that tension plays out on a team like San Antonio, where Hammon is a quite devout Christian...

There is also the idea that not all Christians are anti-LGBTQ...

So are you implying that this is a fear that some GMs have articulated or that this is a phenomenon that is occurring within WNBA locker rooms that people are struggling to address? Or are you just wondering about the tension separate from a report of the tension existing?

pt said...

Q, it's more the latter. Much of the gossip that one reads about the WNBA - or at least the gossip that I've read - indicates that occasionally this issue becomes a flashpoint.

Obviously, there's no data because people don't talk about such things, which are consigned to rumor. Since there's no data, I wanted to bring it up at least as a potential issue.

Certainly, all Christians are not-LGBTQ. I probably should have defined "out Christian" more precisely, which I wanted to associated with a strident conservative "I am right and you are wrong" Christianity. There are tons of inclusive Christians out there, but the question remains how that dynamic between "out Christians" and gays plays in the locker room.

As for San Antonio, I believe that Hammon isn't the only devout Christian on the team. In any case, Hammon has never been associated with any stridency. As a matter of fact, SA has been suggested as a good landing place for Katie Feenstra. (Isn't Megan Frazee already going there? It will be interesting in having two players associated with a fundamentalist university on the same team.)

I think I put myself between a rock and a hard place with this post, but the choices aren't good - you either have to talk about the issue in a purely speculative fashion since no one comes out on the record, or you don't talk at all about an issue that might be a real problem.

pt said...

Anon, you're quite right. If Lehning can't make the team, it's a moot point.

Q said...

Please don't take my comment as a critique of writing the post -- I totally agree it's a worthwhile issue to explore.

I agree that there's a lot of gray area in the way you framed it.

It's definitely something to wonder about, as a general social phenomenon if not a reason for GMs to avoid must be discussed.

Anonymous said...

Probably the most interesting thing is that the Silver Star you cited as religious also happens to be...well, nevermind.

I think this issue is not really as big a deal as you think, because as you pointed out the players of that generation even if very religious are very used to being around comfortably lesbian teammates....

Anonymous said...

don't be so sure lehning can't make this team, she is pretty solid pg

pt said...

Anon #2 - Which is why I was surprised to see her speaking at a revival. There was some clip on the Silver Stars Blog, I believe, and there was Becky at the podium giving a shout out to J. C. - and I don't mean Jamie Carey.

Anon #3 - If there's anything I've learned while following the Dream, it's to be pleasantly surprised. :D