Love (Kisses) and Basketball

basketballEver watch an NBA game? In many arenas, there’s a “KissCam” that puts images of couples in the audience on the overhead Jumbotron screen, so the rest of the audience can encourage them to kiss. It’s silly but harmless.

Go to a WNBA Washington Mystic’s game, however, and you won’t find a KissCam, even though the NBA’s Washington Wizards use one. Why? According to Sheila Johnson, the Mystics’ managing partner, “We got a lot of kids here. We just don’t find it appropriate.”

The Washington Post’s sports columnist Mike Wise, however, explores the notion that fear of spotlighting the team’s many lesbian fans drove the decision:

It’s understandable that a financially shaky league is outright terrified it could alienate a chunk of its fan base if two same-sex people shared a chaste kiss on a video scoreboard. . . .

But how long does a league keep some of its most loyal and longtime customers in the closet? How long should any historically persecuted group keep quiet when the Mystics take sponsorship dollars from a company [Exxon Mobil] noted for discrimination against gays?

Good question indeed. Fear of alienating part of the fan base has to be weighed against making another phenomenally loyal—and against challenging the increasingly accepting tide of public opinion. Looking at the Fortune 500 companies that have made similar choices in deciding whether to offer equal benefits for LGBT employees, it seems that going for loyalty and fairness over bias is the better call.

Let’s also remember this isn’t in fact a matter of “lesbians vs. kids.” Wise implies it is when he says, “Understood is that women’s professional basketball has two major fan bases: dads and daughters, and lesbians. The KissCam issue, frivolous on its surface, puts the effort to cater to both audiences squarely at odds.”

Some of the dads may be gay. Some of the lesbians may have daughters. Some of the daughters may turn out to be lesbians themselves (and not because they saw two women kissing at a WNBA game). Society doesn’t divide into neat and tidy teams with uniforms.

The Mystics aren’t all bad, either. They apparently send representatives to HRC’s big benefit dinners and even brought the whole team once. (I know there are many in the LGBT community who are skeptical of HRC these days. My point here is not to debate HRC’s worth, but simply to show that the Mystics have not shied away from everything LGBT related.)

Despite missing the point about lesbian and gay parents, Wise has written a good article that raises a perennial issue in women’s professional sports—and in feminism. From the early days of the feminist movement, there have always been some who wanted to backburner lesbian issues in the hope of not alienating straight supporters. (We see this replayed in similar form with trans issues today.)

What to do? Join the Impact recently organized The Great Nationwide Kiss-In to protest the arrest of same-sex couples for appropriate public displays of affection. I’m thinking a kiss-in at a Mystics game would be a good idea. (Maybe every time the Mystics score, all the lesbians in the audience kiss.) I’m nowhere near the D.C. area, however, so I leave this to local fans to organize. Any takers?