The Ohio State football team has come under fire for forcing some players to swap their scarlet and gray for lavender.
Coach Urban Meyer issued a letter of apology March 1, a day after Tim Valentine, president of OSU alumni society Scarlet & Gay, and Garett Heysel, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sent a letter to Meyer chastising the program for its practice of making players who underperformed during conditioning drills don lavender jerseys.
In the joint-statement, Valentine and Heysel said the “choice of lavender reinforces homophobia and promotes bullying amongst students” because the color is closely associated with the gay community.
As a proudly open member of the gay community, my first instinct might have been to fall in line with this call to arms. Instead, I found myself wondering what it is that I am supposed to be offended by.
There is no doubt that homophobia in the locker room is a pervasive issue that victimizes many athletes, leaving them in a perpetual state of fear of being outed. Recently, the NHL took up the cause in the You Can Play campaign, a collection of efforts to create a more inclusive atmosphere in athletics. Those in the NBA and MLB have made similar efforts to address a very real problem for people in the gay community.
But unless there were homophobic slurs scrawled across the lavender jerseys, I am at a complete loss for how this practice is connected to the oppressive nature of athletics, directly or indirectly.
Yes, lavender is associated with the gay community. It is also the color of many Easter eggs, flowers and my grandmother’s dining room walls.
Based on Valentine and Heysel’s reasoning, could one call foul if the dawdling players had been forced to wear white — a clearly racist action based on the oft-cited stereotype that white men can’t jump?
Valentine and Heysel, along with the others who were so quick to take a stand for what could be seen as a slight against the gay community should be lauded for their fearless advocacy. It takes an immense amount of bravery to demand accountability from a popular figure such as Meyer when the topic at hand is one so controversial.
But to take an issue as immaterial as the color choice of penal jerseys used in the football program and attempt to paint it as an undeniable product of institutionalized homophobia (through a convoluted, assumptive line of thought, no less) completely trivializes the plight of countless closeted athletes who feel forced to remain silent for fear of losing the support of their teammates or losing their place on the team.
Though I would much rather hear discourse concerning more substantial issues, I am wildly pleased with Meyer’s reaction. Rather than going on the defensive, Meyer swiftly and tactfully apologized for any unintended offense and promised to change the practice.
While navigating this mountain forged from a mole hill, Meyer’s apology lent more to creating a sense of respect and openness in athletics and across the board than anyone could have hoped to achieve through demanding jerseys of a different color.