Sports radio is slowly becoming comfortable with gay and lesbian culture and that is good news on the weekend when many cities in the U.S. celebrate gay pride.

Last Thursday I flew to San Francisco for the weekend to celebrate gay pride. After claiming an aisle seat on the airplane, a woman and her 5 year old settled in beside me. The child was loud and squirmy but I was more disturbed by the mother who turned to her child and said: “If you don’t stop screaming, I’m leaving you home with a babysitter next time!” That, of course, made the child even more upset. There was more to come. After the child asked her to call “Daddy”, her mother said: “With what, a line straight to heaven? Yeah, like that’ll work.”

Oh my God, is that child’s father dead and her mother just said that to her?

I leaned back in my seat and thought about the sports radio show I’d listened to that morning: the DeMarco Farr Show with Kevin Kiley on the Los Angeles ESPN radio affiliate. They were interviewing Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of outsports.com, who regularly appears on the show as an “alternative lifestyle” reporter.

As Ziegler read a top ten list of the hottest professional athletes according to gay men, you could hear DeMarco Farr pretending to throw up in the background. Some of the athletes on the list were football players and Farr had been a professional football player himself. He was uncomfortable with the idea that his football heroes were being viewed as cheesecake pinups by gay men. Kiley was o.k. with it and went as far as saying that he’d pose nude for a photo shoot knowing that gay men might purchase and appreciate looking at his image.

One listener called in and accused Farr of being homophobic and another said he should just get over his objections but Farr responded by saying something very interesting. Farr said that every time Zeigler comes on the show he says something that makes him feel so uneasy he has to tune him out mentally. But every time he speaks to Zeigler, he gets a bit more comfortable talking about the gay lifestyle.

This is how change takes place. Someone like Zeigler establishes a gay website about sports and two radio hosts like DeMarco Farr and Kevin Kiley invite Zeigler onto their show. The three of them agree and disagree and Farr sometimes wants to throw up, but they’re all willing to listen to each other and keep talking.

Gay athletes will become accepted in major professional sports eventually but it will take time and effort. More former professional athletes will need to come out and professional coaches will have to educate themselves about “alternative” lifestyles. The media will have to educate themselves too, there’s no such thing as a fan who doesn’t read the sports sections or listen to sports radio or watch ESPN SportsCenter.

For their part, Farr and Kiley and Zeigler deserve a lot of credit.

As the plane approached San Francisco, I got into a conversation with the mother sitting next to me. Her husband was dead. He’d died while she was pregnant with her daughter. She’d also gone through the death of one of her children. She was returning from seeing her boyfriend and planned to move in with him after another daughter graduates from high school next year.

She’d met her boyfriend online and she wished me luck because I was planning to have a face to face in San Francisco with someone I’d met online. I still don’t like her communication skills but I have much greater respect for her after our conversation. That’s how respect and understanding grow: ongoing conversation.

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