Why Was the Media So Excited to Falsely Out a Montreal Canadien?

Josh Gorges, a Montreal Canadiens defenseman, was wrongfully outed by a ton of online media after he was accused of being gay. Why do we care so much? And what's with the rush to publicly out an athlete?

Josh Gorges is under scrutiny.

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges is a reliable two-way player, he's kind of a hunk, and he's not gay (he's engaged to a woman). But on Wednesday morning, several digital outlets picked up on an erroneous rumour that Josh Gorges was planning on coming out as a gay man this week. Again: that rumour is complete bullshit, some dipshit scumbag with an anonymous hockey rumour Twitter account – the type that plagues on-line hockey culture - pulled it out of their ass. Still the episode laid plain an appetite in the gay blogosphere to have an opportunity to root for an openly gay athlete. It was also the latest in a series of unbecoming, speculative incidents that played out in the media and concerned the sexual orientation of a high-profile athlete.

Let's start with the embarrassing way the erroneous report was covered by a handful of “the less-reliable, let's say, gay blogs” as You Can Play President Patrick Burke put it in a conversation with WEEI's Jerry Spar on Wednesday.

NHL Hottie Josh Gorges to Come Out as Gay Man” was the headline of an article written by Chris Spargo of NewNowNext.com on Wednesday. “This report is coming from @NHLInsights, a little known Twitter account centered around Canadian hockey. That being said, no one knows hockey, lives hockey and loves hockey more than those crazy Canucks.“

For any J-schoolers out there, let this be a reminder: Canada plus hockey equals credible source. Seriously I haven't seen logical reasoning this bad since Adam West's Batman connected Catwoman to the exploding shark, “and it happened at sea, and C is for Catwoman!” Eureka!

Here's how it was covered elsewhere:

Is an NHL Player About to Come Out of the Closet?” was the headline on a post by Jon Higbee at InstinctMagazine.com. “If NHL Insights has any well, insight, in the matter, we might have our first major professional athlete who also happens to be openly gay.”

Nice turn of phrase, bro!

Meanwhile Queerty and Aksarbent ran with the story and posted a photo of Josh Gorges alongside Carey Price and a couple of ex-teammates – one of whom is named Chris Higgins, and is credited in the photo on both sites as “Chris Higgings” – dressed in revealing costumes at a Halloween party several years back. Yeah, as if wearing a speedo to a Halloween party in Montreal when you have a professional athlete's body is somehow suggestive of anything beyond a desire to get laid. Of the reports I've linked to, only Aksarbent has corrected the record thus far.

But the most revealing treatment of the rumour came from Philly Mag's Michael Callahan who tacked these sentences onto the end of his ill-informed news blast about the Gorges rumour: “For now, the German-born Gorges is staying mum, neither confirming nor denying the rumor.” I'd mention that Josh Gorges was actually born in Kelowna, British Columbia. Anyway, Callahan continued, “But for many of us who as tortured teens could not have imagined a pro athlete having the balls to come out of the closet (or gays being able to legally marry, either), just the prospect of such an announcement is cause for unbridled glee. And a compelling reason to start watching hockey.”

From the way each of these reports was written it's obvious that the respective writers aren't hockey fans. Allow me to digress quickly but if you do want to read quality, informed hockey content written from a gay perspective I highly recommend Puck Buddy's and Outsports– who covered this flare up succinctly with headline on their front page: “Straight Montreal Canadien isn't coming out as gay.” Secondly, it's also very clear that there's a hunger in the gay community, or at least the gay community online, for a professional athlete to “come out” as a gay man and be open about their sexuality.

Statistically speaking, there's almost certainly several gay athletes currently active in North American professional sports. The desire to see a guy come out, blaze the trail, and be for gay men what Jackie Robinson was for black American men three generations ago is understandable. Especially when you consider that potential draft picks were asked by NFL teams whether or not they “liked girls” during combine interviews just this spring...

But the desire to be “first” on a story like this confuses me. At best it demonstrates a serious failure of empathy and at worst it's completely counter-productive. Had this rumour been true – and it isn't – but had it been true, why would you want to preempt the player from making the public announcement on his own terms?

Andrew Sullivan, indie blogger and author of Virtually Normal - probably the seminal text covering the politics of sexual orientation in North America - wrote this about “outing” a generation ago in the New Republic:

“In all the recent brouhaha over the “outing” of alleged homosexuals, one fallacy has remained virtually unchallenged. It’s the notion of a simple “closet” and the crude assertion that one is either in it or out of it. I know of no one to whom this applies. Most homosexuals and lesbians whose sexualities are developed beyond adolescence are neither “in” nor “out.” They hover tentatively somewhere in between. And most outings are not essentially about dragging someone out of anything. They are crude assertions about invariably complex people, which have very little to do with the nature of someone’s sexuality, and all to do with who controls the disclosure of it.”

At some point, and probably in the not too distant future, a professional athlete will break the “orientation barrier.” On the topic of “when,” Patrick Burke made a bullish prediction when speaking to WEEI and debunking this particular rumour on Wednesday: “I think the next 12-18 months. I think there’s a chance it could happen sometime this offseason or next offseason. I think we’re very, very close here, and within the next year-and-a-half or so it will happen.”

I hope Patrick's right, because an openly gay athlete would be an incomparable role model for young gay men and women, and because I know how much it would mean to sports fans (gay and straight). But fuck me, when you see the way an erroneous rumour like the Gorges report was handled on-line on Wednesday, you begin to understand why an athlete would be hesitant to deal with this.

From Manti T'eo to Mike Piazza (again? What is this, 1998?), this Gorges non-story is the latest in a spate of baseless, speculative incidents in which the media has focussed in on the sexual orientation of a high-profile North American athlete. It's useless to ask this, because on some rudimentary level writing about sports only differs from writing about celebrity gossip in the most superficial of ways, but it would be great if the internet could give the rumour mongering about gay (or possibly gay) athletes a fucking rest.

At some point, probably some point soon, some brave and absurdly talented human person will stand up and lead the way on this. Until then can we grow up and let them do it on their own terms? Yeah, probably not.

Follow Thomas on Twitter: @ThomasDrance

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