Friday, August 7, 2009

"I don't talk like that": R. Zamora Linmark tackles the UHM football coach's homophobia

The boy was about my son's age, maybe a year or two older. He was watching my son's team play, but he was also performing for the other spectators. His back to the field, he began to talk loudly about "fags," some kid who was one. One of the players' dads laughed loudly, so the kid said "fag" again. I was sitting off to the side, unsure of how to react. The kid came toward me, was about to walk by, when I reached out and grabbed his arm. "Many of my friends are gay, and I don't want to hear you say that again," I said to him. He smirked. He pulled at his arm; for a moment, I didn't release him. I never heard my son's baseball coach say anything of the kind, but he did punctuate his coaching with yells of "don't throw like a girl" and "don't hit like girl," even though his daughter played varsity for Kamehameha Schools softball team and one of his former charges was a star for the UH softball team (and in my Creative Writing & Literature class). Years ago, when I coached t-ball, one of the dads asked me to tell his son "not to act like a girl." Homophobia, misogyny: a not-so-odd couple trotted out at sports events where manhood is on the line, even if the players are 10 and under.

The UH football coach, Greg McMackin, has been suspended for 30 days, docked 7% of his pay, and required to do community service with LGBT organizations for a recent press conference in which he referred to the Notre Dame football team's "little faggot dance" (discreetly written as "f----t" on the website). The UH haka dance is masculine and bold, of course. After his suspension and pay cut, he gave another public statement during which he shed tears and said the following (you can listen there):

"I would sincerely like to apologize for the inappropriate verbage, words I used. You know, couple things, cause I have nothing against the University of Notre Dame. I have... I don't talk like that and I'm really ticked off at myself for saying that. And uh, I don't know what to tell you. I don't have any prejudices and it really makes me mad that I said that, and I'm disappointed in myself. I know that there are a couple of you who know me. I'm a very competitive person. I think I told you guys that was the worst loss in my 40-year career in the game and that it ticks me off, that you know, that I said that cause Notre Dame played a great ball game. What I was trying to do was be funny and it wasn't funny and it's not funny and even more, it isn't funny, too. I was trying to make a joke and it was a bad choice of words and it really, I really, really feel bad about it, and I wanted to apologize. I'm going to apologize to my team and apologize to the people in Hawaii."

He moves from saying he might have offended Notre Dame to talking about his lack of prejudice, to saying he's very competitive, to claiming he was trying to be funny, to an apology to his team and the people of Hawai`i. Unpack that paratactical morass and the purported origins and evident cover for hatred become clear. You're hurt, you attack a marginalized group, it's just in good humor, and now you apologize. You apologize to the same group that laughed with you, namely the press. In a poem addressed to the coach, which will appear soon in the Honolulu Weekly, R. Zamora Linmark refers to the "joke" as "beyond boring to me" and expresses his ironic pleasure that the coach does "not have a problem with either" his being "a faggot or a homosexual," noting that "there really is very little difference between the two, / except to discern the discreet from the closeted." Zack follows that with his own enjambed joke about "your tight ends / and receivers."

As Zack notes, McMackin is hardly the first person in Hawai`i sports to find homosexuality threatening. Almost ten years ago, well before McMackin became the coach, the football team changed its name from "Rainbows" to "Warriors," got rid of the light green uniforms with rainbows on them, and changed to black uniforms with a forbidding H stenciled on. The Thursday, July 27, 2000 article by Dave Reardon in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin bears some close-reading; in "Ushering in Hawaii's new brand," Reardon alludes but once to "the gay movement" in his reporting on the change of name and logo. Reardon does quote a Hawaiian activist on problems with the new Warrior mascot and logo: "The issue," says Pi`ilani Smith, "is no longer about the mascot, the issue is no longer about this hideous logo. The issue is about misappropriating identity and racist slurs." Hugh Yoshida, then Athletic Director, responds that the "designs were thoroughly researched for cultural sensitivity, and experts at the university's Center for Hawaiian Studies were consulted." So there. No mention of "experts" on LGBT issues, of course.

The euphemistic haze gets denser. Former UH receiver Kyle Mosley is quoted as saying, "Being called the Rainbows, especially for men's teams, left them open to ridicule . . . Warriors has a much stronger connotation." Charlie Wade, the assistant women's volleyball coach, added that the word "rainbow," "is a loaded one, especially on the Mainland." "Once you get away from Hawaii, (Rainbow) can mean a lot of different things," said Wade, alluding to "Jeff Gordon's pit crew known as the Rainbow Warriors, Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, and the gay movement." Now which of these three items is most "loaded," do you think? Again, Zack takes the euphemisms and raises them, almost literally, into the sky:

I was not ticked off nor even offended
ten years ago, when the team refused to kick-
off until the name and mascot were changed
from "Rainbows" to "Warriors," for fear
of affiliating with Newton's palette or anything
to do with meteorological phenomenon [sic] . . .


"Throw like a girl . . . hit like a girl": surely what follows these insults is the phrase, "cries like a girl." So in a private email, my Dean (a happily married gay man) writes, "But even more (much more) interesting than my being offended (Zack is right to call that 'beyond boring') was McMackin's total collapse into girly-man tears at his press conference. Now what was behind that?" Good question. Of course McMackin was not the first coach to break into tears over a football matter. When the last coach, June Jones (what's with that first name?), resigned as head coach, the Honolulu Advertiser's Stephen Tsai quoted a friend of the coach's as saying: "He cried like a baby . . . he doesn't want to leave. . . This breaks his heart." The language of manliness gives way, with seeming naturalness, to the language of sentiment--babies, women, what's the diff?

Stephen Tsai's work for the Advertiser and for is worth a closer look, for Tsai's rhetoric brought together, sometimes sublimely, the mix of masculinity, fundamentalist Christianity, and heroism that hovered about Jones's tenure as coach. At the same time, Tsai aided in the cover-up of Jones's affairs, his purported love child with a volleyball player, and the greed that sent him packing to SMU in 2008. Tsai was not the only writer to romanticize Jones's tenure as coach, but more than most he elevated Jones's position in the community by lauding his character. Crucial to the Junes Jones myth (one that lasted roughly the length of the George W. Bush administration) was the car accident that nearly took his life in 2001. Tsai began his article, "Jones became symbol of optimism for Aloha State" with the stark words, "Paradise froze." What follows in the article about Jones's accident are myriad mentions of prayer: the governor is praying, the mayor reports that the citizens of Hawai`i are praying, there was a moment of prayer before a game with Texas Christian (do I really need the italics?). Jones, who presided over the shift from Rainbows to Warriors, is described by friends and colleagues as "a people's coach," an agent of optimism in the face of economic recession, an Island Son. My favorite quotation comes from Larry Beil, a UH grad and former ESPN anchor: "Right next to the Duke Kahanamoku state [that means "statue"], they should make one for June Jones."

Ah, but this mythical character is also a good and a humble man, according to Stephen Tsai: "Jones does not have a secretary, keeps his own appointment book and answers his own calls, usually on his cellular, which is as much a part of his everyday wear as socks are not." He drives his own car!!! (Your blogger knows this is true, because June Jones drove himself in his fancy SUV through her picket line in 2000, when the faculty struck for better pay.) Tsai ends his encomium by using the two worst words in contemporary journalism. The accident, he writes, was "so ironic and tragic." Need I add that the ironies were unspoken, and the tragedy incomplete, since the flawless hero survived.

Tsai updated this article six years later, after the Warriors' undefeated season, but before Jones left for other pastures. The update fills out the language of religion and heroic recovery from the accident. The very headline alludes to the coach's "new life," at once actual and spiritual, and reads like a saint's life. What fascinates me about Tsai's article is that so much space is devoted to love. As quoted in the article, June Jones sets forth a philosophy of familial (his mother cooked him breakfast every morning; his dad attended all his games) and divine love ("It is that love--God's love--that seized his soul when he was a teenager"). Reminded of saint's lives, I did some traveling on the internet this morning and found a site that features the "Saint of the Day" on Catholic Online. Turn to today's Saint of the Day on-line at the "Saints and Angels" section of the Catholic on-line site, and you find this on St. Cajetan:

"Cajetan took a different route. Just as concerned as Luther was about what he observed in the Church, he went to Rome in 1523 -- not to talk to the pope or the hierarchy but to consult with members of a confraternity called the Oratory of the Divine Love. When he had first come to Rome many years before, he had felt called to some unknown great work there. A few years later he returned to his hometown of Vicenza -- his great work seemingly unrealized. He had however studied for the priesthood and been ordained and helped re-establish a faded confraternity whose aims were promoting God's glory and the welfare of souls."

Let me now quote Coach Jones's spiritual guide, Pastor Norm, as quoted by Stephen Tsai. Listen for the echoes of St. Cajetan's life, the fraternity of "Divine Love," the promotion of "God's glory and the welfare of souls." "The crash woke him to to why he's on Earth . . . It brought him back to realizing his purpose. He's here to change young people's lives, which he can do better at the college level than pro level. It recalibrated his life and his priorities. He understood that 'this is why God put me here and why God made me like this'." Following the Lives of the Saints model, Tsai goes on to list Jones's good deeds, which included offering a scholarship to a homeless player, creating a charitable foundation, giving another scholarship to a football fan with cerebral palsy, and so on. Tsai is proleptically channeling the good pastor Norman Nakanishi's sermon on June Jones; Nakanishi's recent Twitter feed indicates he's praying for Coach McMackin: "Called & emailed UH Coach Mac. May God reveal himself. Pray w/me.12:26 PM Jul 31st from mobile web."

Far be it from me to mock the Catholic saints, but I do feel an upsurge of skepticism about the saintly coach, as I would confess to the nearest priest, or to you, fond reader. I might take a rhetorical question from Tsai's article out of context and ask, "What's wrong with this picture?" and point back to the language of hatred with which I began this post. Coach Jones was never quoted as using the word "faggot," but then there were (enamored) writers like Stephen Tsai to cover for him. Coach McMackin, a less charismatic coach, alluded to reporters covering for him after he used the word "faggot" at the press conference. This coach got caught by the out of town press.

The haters on the internet can now hate the Coach for crying, for apologizing (mostly to Notre Dame, it should be said). Homophobic language, along with its close relatives sexist and racist (and even anti-semitic) language (see here for an especially vile example), are alive and well. So it's good to have the homophobic language of public officials dragged out of the closet. It's good to see that there are consequences to the use of such language, even for the coach of the football team. It's good that the Coach will be working directly with the LGBT community. While the phrase "policing the language" has a bad name (what? I thought we weren't supposed to speak ill of the police!), let's try to keep policing this dance of saying and not saying words that can--on the field of play--break some bones.

Let's save the language of love and sentiment and spirituality for other fields of play. Like poetry.

Here's Linmark's entire poem in response to Coach McMackin.

That Little Faggot Dance, Said the Coach
R. Zamora Linmark

McMackin apparently pleaded with the press not to report on the slur. “I want to officially, officially apologize…Please don’t write that statement I said as far as Notre Dame. The reason is, I don’t care about Notre Dame. But I’m not a – I don’t want to come out and have every homosexual ticked off at me. from Towleroad

I am a faggot and a homosexual and I know and am glad
that you do not have a problem with either,
because there really is very little difference between the two,
except to discern the discreet from the closeted,
and when the issue extends beyond the grassy field
where preference of position is played out to the tee,
almost identical, but not quite, to your tight ends
and wide receivers.
And although you
were only trying to make a joke that ended up
not being funny to you and beyond boring to me,
the joke being about “that little faggot dance”
the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame did before
you sent your boys to slap their heads and beat
their chests then go into a Polynesian trance
that your Hawaii fans now suspect was the reason
for the 20-point loss, which is almost equivalent
to three touchdowns.
But why did you use “faggot”
three times at the press conference then try
to retract by calling it a “bad term”, which,
whether you and I and the rest of the Emperor
penguins like it or not, is almost similar
to you calling me a bad person.
I am that bad choice of word, when
you could’ve consulted Roget’s
or me via Facebook for more engaging, if not
better get-creative-with synonyms, like “Aero-splitting
fudgepackers” or “Powwow fairies”, almost alike
and at least oxymoronic.
That said, I am not
ticked off and am far from offended, just as
I was not ticked off nor even offended
ten years ago, when the team refused to kick-
off until the name and mascot were changed
from “Rainbows” to “Warriors”, for fear
of affiliating with Newton’s palette or anything
to do with meteorological phenomenon,
like the time I sided with the rain on one side
of the street and you were glinting with the sun
on the other.


Anonymous said...


I think you're article is well-stated and you point out many assumptions that operate behind such things as straight and male privilege in Hawai`i and elsewhere.

Many friends I know on the mainland like to perpetuate the myth of tolerance and harmony in Hawai`i--they take the racial melting pot fiction and transpose that onto sexual orientation and gender expression as well.

Hawai`i is still in a colonial state for some. For others, Hawai`i is a space or place where political factions compete with each other for power and privilege, and in the process, begin to oppress others inadvertently. The McMackin homophobia slur is only one of many examples of how LGBT and queers in Hawai`i are faced with oppression and social injustice on a daily basis.

As many of us learn to do in a heterosexist culture, we disidentify--we learn how to take something that assumes everything is "straight" or "normal" and turn that something into something queer--hence--Zack taking a word phrase such as "tight end" and turning it into a double entendre--a type of "camp humor" that gay males learned to develop over time as not only a way to communicate with each other in secret, but as a survival strategy--a device that can be deployed at certain times to subvert and highlight the artifice or social constructions of such performances as sex, gender, and sexual orientation. It's also a refusal to assimilate to the "norms" of straight society and jump on the bandwagon and say: "Don't throw like a girl!"

Now, I know there are some people who would say that Hawai`i is in fact a lot better than many other places in the world for LGBT and queers, however, this sort of reasoning allows such people to "get off the hook" for continuing the work that needs to be done on a daily basis to ensure that such comments and the one McMackin made are not perpetuated, and severely punished.

I suspect that many staight males who side with McMakin by saying "that's normal male lockeroom talk" don't want to hear this either. The fact remains though: how do these straight guys know that when they are in the lockeroom, showering right next to him, might be a bestfriend who is a closeted gay who learns to stay in the closet and not come out because his friend is a homophobe?

I only wish McMakin's punishment was even more severe. Having experienced similar taunting at the UH gym on campus last fall, where the staff supported the striaght male students and tried to excuse their comments as "guys just pumped up on testosterone" I could only say: My transgendered friend who was born a biological female and is taking "T" to pass as a "male" injects testosterone twice a month and he doesn't feel the need to act this way in such sports venues--why must these straight guys?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan, for a thoughtful and just essay. I'm sure thinking like yours will gradually sweep aside the old bigotry and bring in the new society. Glad to be your friend.

Alfred (Corn)