Rosie Jones is gay, so what?
Decision to come out may open doors that were once closed
SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN, Ariz. -- A picky person could find a variety of reasons to criticize Rosie Jones for revealing in a first-person story for The New York Times that she is a lesbian. Why did Jones, 44, wait so long? Why was the announcement tied to an endorsement deal, giving it the feel of a commercial decision, not a personal one? Why did she reveal her orientation in a forum where she could not be questioned by reporters?
While these would be valid observations, they would also be unfair attempts to demean a bold act. From where I sit, Jones' action was a courageous move that can only help the LPGA escape the winds of whisper and perhaps encourage other players to come out. Yes, the LPGA has players who are gay, and just as surely so do other professional sports for both women and men. So what?
There is an instructive irony in Jones' announcement. There have always been several very good reasons why players have been private about their sexual orientation. One is to spare family members potentially awkward situations. Another is to avoid the constant questions that were sure to come from the media anytime an issue involving gay rights hits the news. A third is simply a matter of privacy. But the fourth reason involved economics. Players feared coming out would negatively impact their endorsement deals. All are highly understandable reasons.
Jones will wear the logo of Olivia, a travel agency that caters to a gay clientele.
Now, it is economics that has enabled Jones to come out. Beginning this week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship she will wear the logo of Olivia, a travel agency that caters to a gay clientele. Jones is one of the female players who probably never got a fair share of the endorsement pie. In her rather remarkable 21 years on tour she has won 13 times and made more than 91 percent of her cuts. She is likely the greatest woman player without a major championship -- and the emphasis here should be on the word "greatest" not on the word "without." Her economic reward has come disproportionately from on-the-course winnings rather than off-the-course business deals. PGA Tour players earn far more in endorsements that they do in winnings.
Jones is now at an age where she can be open about her sexual orientation. She's had a successful career and she has the toughness and maturity to answer the questions that are sure to come. And her declaration should help the LPGA get out from under an unfair cloud of suspicion. Almost from its inception in 1950, the "L" word has been whispered about the LPGA. Maybe now all that will stop. Yes, there are lesbians on the LPGA. What does it matter?
Perhaps what will happen here is the Martina Navratilova syndrome. There was a time when people whispered the "L" word about women's tennis. But all that pretty much went away when Navratilova was outed by a former lover. The truth was that Navratilova was gay and the equal truth was that she went on winning after she was outed and the popularity of women's tennis grew with her success. The truth was confronted and the world went on. Perhaps that is what will happen now with the LPGA.
|The "L" word has now been spoken. It has been shouted. There is at least one lesbian on the LPGA tour and she is bold and proud enough to say so. Not only will the sun come up tomorrow, it will quite possibly shine a little brighter. This was a good day for the LPGA, and there are better days to come. Thank you, Rosie Jones.
The fact is, many of the greatest players in the history of the LPGA were and are lesbian. And the equal fact is that who those players are is no one's right to know unless the player decides she wants to discuss it publicly. I have always felt that players who are lesbian could enhance their endorsement situation by being open about it. It is my feeling that companies don't want to enter into a business relationship and then get hit with a surprise. Times have changed enough that marketing an openly gay athlete should not be a problem -- millions of Americans welcome gay people into their living rooms every week in the form of popular TV shows.
Jones' declaration also shines the spotlight on another issue facing the LPGA. While the situation has improved in recent years, women golfers -- heterosexual as well as homosexual -- are not getting the endorsement deals they deserve. Too many really fine players and really fine people carry blank bags.
If I was a marketing person for a major corporation I would look at the LPGA and its players as vastly undervalued products. There is perhaps nowhere in sports where an advertiser can get as much bang for their buck. Safeway, the supermarket chain that sponsored this week's tournament in Phoenix as well as another in Portland, Ore., has been smart enough to figure that out.
Safeway is also clever enough to understand that the true golden age of the LPGA is right around the corner. In Annika Sorenstam it has an athlete who has become a one-word star. Say "Annika" and everyone knows who you are talking about. In the likes of Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster and Beth Daniel, Sorenstam has worthy opponents. And in 19-year-old Shi Hyun Ahn, 17-year-old Aree Song and 14-year-old Michelle Wie -- not to mention top juniors like Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel -- the future could not be brighter.
Perhaps one of the reasons that corporate money has not flowed into the LPGA and its players in the volume the product deserves has been fear of the whispers. Perhaps now that fear is gone. The "L" word has now been spoken. It has been shouted. There is at least one lesbian on the LPGA tour and she is bold and proud enough to say so. Not only will the sun come up tomorrow, it will quite possibly shine a little brighter. This was a good day for the LPGA, and there are better days to come. Thank you, Rosie Jones.
Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine
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