Yusaf Mack and the Media’s Half-baked Coverage of LGBTQ Athletes (Guest Column)

by Marley Malenfant // @marleymalenfant

Yusaf Mack‘s boxing career was already in shambles. The West Philadelphia native lost four consecutive fights in two years, one of which was a KO.

His personal life could be the same.

Mack recently came out as a gay man, but his hand was definitely forced. When the story broke that Mack was in a gay sex tape, Mack refuted the story by saying that he was drugged. In the name of masculinity, Mack told Daily News columnist Jenice Armstrong that “My whole life, I’ve been what they call a whoremonger. I love females.”

SEE MORE: Boxer who appears in X-rated sex tape says he was drugged

After being threatened with a lawsuit from the adult film company that produced the sex tape, Mack changed his statement.

Mack’s original story is bizarre but his behavior prior to coming out is nothing new. Mack has 10 children and an ex-fiancé who had no idea he was gay and it’s unfair for his loved ones to learn about this on social media and not from him first. Jason Collins is praised for his classy Sports Illustrated piece in 2013, but his ex-fiancé didn’t find out until the morning the article was released.

Mack said his 23-year-old daughter told him to kill himself when he confronted her. He’s also had thoughts of suicide.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a gay man and the pressures that Mack, Collins or any gay athlete, and just regular-ass people—man or woman— face and how hard that is to share with the world. Media coverage on LGBTQ athletes can be salacious or inconsistent at the very least.

We sensationalized a kiss Michael Sam had with his boyfriend on national TV when the St. Louis Rams drafted Sam with the 249th pick last year. We don’t know or we forget how to cover a domestic violence scandal when it’s two WNBA players who happened to be married, after just coming off a huge domestic violence scandal from the NFL.

Maybe we don’t know how to cover gay people.

This is new ground for sports journalism. Therefore, anything a gay athlete does is usually news. When an athlete shares with the world they’re gay, it’s news. When said athlete is openly gay and is actively playing in a professional sport, it’s news. When said athlete is getting endorsement deals, it’s news. Bruce Jenner was on the Wheaties box and for a brief time, was the biggest athlete in the world. [Caitlyn] Jenner, now of course, is always synonymous with the Kardashians, the Vanity Fair cover, the ESPYs controversy and the day-to-day life as a woman.

The media has covered athletes prior to the 21st century but most of the athletes we’ve known to be LGBTQ were retired. A prime example of this is the late Glenn Burke, who played for the LA Dodgers and the Oakland A’s for three seasons before retiring because, wait for it… he couldn’t stand living a double life. A gay black man playing in the major leagues during the 70’s— not that far removed from the civil rights movement. That’s fucking huge.

Burke came out in an Inside Sports magazine article in 1982. Burke died of AIDS in 1995. MLB decided to honor Burke last year.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport and Mack knows this. It’s hard inside the ring and the business of boxing is far more unforgiving. As I said at the top of this column, Mack’s career is on the downfall and he isn’t likely to get another major title shot. Whether or not Mack still wants to box or if boxing still has work for him is still left to be desired. A promoter’s excuse is Mack no longer garners interest or he’s washed up.

It’s possible he does fight again. Orlando Cruz, a boxer who came out in 2012, is still fighting. The difference is there wasn’t a sex tape to incriminate shame and embarrass Cruz.

Fallon Fox is most likely to share similar frustrations with Mack for not getting out her story first. Fox, a transgender MMA fighter, was at a party when she got a call from a reporter who knew she was transgender. The reporter leaked the story, leaving Fox no chance to explain herself. Fox has gone on the record about her frustrations with the UFC not letting her compete. UFC president Dana White and his cash cow Ronda Rousey have said Fox has no business there. The irony is the UFC didn’t always have women competing and Rousey, who has teased the media about a fight with boxer Floyd Mayweather, refused to recognize Fox as a female.

These types of things are really happening in 2015. People of power who have billions of dollars and run operations and teams and leagues and promote big fights are preventing and hurting others from competing. It’s what kept Sam out the locker room. League owners, promoters, state athletic commissions and big time media are the gate keepers for what is new talent and why we follow them. It’ll take a Lebron James-like talent to break walls for LGBTQ in pro sports. It’ll take an athlete so damn good—and it’ll have to be a male—that he has the respect of the room, that when he walks to the podium for questions, those questions won’t have anything to do with his sexuality but the game itself.

Yusaf Mack said he did the sex tape for money. I doubt he needed the $4,500 he earned from it that bad. But the story is out.

A clear mind and a new life is priceless.

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