Tolerance in a time of bigotry

Tolerance in a time of bigotry

by digby

Yes, back in the day people were bigoted. It was common to hear racial, ethnic and homophobic slurs dropped casually into conversation. But it was never a requirement:

Multiple players who played for Vince Lombardi, the legendary former Packers and Redskins coach, say that he knew some of his players were gay, and that not only did he not have a problem with it, but he went out of his way to make sure no one else on his team would make it a problem.

In 1969, Lombardi’s Redskins included a running back named Ray McDonald, who in 1968 had been arrested for having sex with another man in public. In the Lombardi biography When Pride Still Mattered, author David Maraniss writes that Lombardi told his assistants he wanted them to work with McDonald to help him make the team, “And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”

Lombardi’s daughter Susan told Ian O’Connor of that her father would have been thrilled to have a player like Jason Collins, the NBA center who publicly revealed this week that he is gay.

“My father was way ahead of his time,” Susan Lombardi said. “He was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian American when he was younger, when he felt he was passed up for coaching jobs that he deserved. He felt the pain of discrimination, and so he raised his family to accept everybody, no matter what color they were or whatever their sexual orientation was. I think it’s great what Jason Collins did, because it’s going to open a lot of doors for people. Without a doubt my father would’ve embraced him, and would’ve been very proud of him for coming out.”

Dave Kopay, the first former NFL player to come out, also played on those 1969 Redskins, and he says that while he never told Lombardi, he believes Lombardi knew not only that Kopay was gay, but that Kopay and another Redskins player, Jerry Smith, were in a romantic relationship.

“Lombardi protected and loved Jerry,” Kopay told O’Connor.
Some people have always had empathy. And quite a few went out of their way to defend minorities even when it was socially risky. That's not to say that people who went along with the prevailing attitudes were all horrible people. Someone like Lombardi had every reason to be secure in his status and career, which made this sort of thing much easier. And a lot of people just don't have natural empathy if it isn't modeled for them. But the fact is that there were always whites from every walk of life and every region of the country who were vocally anti-racist and there were always men and women who defended gays. It's not as if being tolerant wasn't possible, even then. It's always possible.