From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Hitman and the Hockey Player

Not to be confused with The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

Don't know if anyone has been following this story. Last week a center for the St. Louis Blues named Mike Danton was arrested for allegedly asking a friend to find a hitman to kill someone for him. Danton allegedly told a female friend that a hitman from Canada was coming down to kill him over a debt, and asked if she knew anyone who would be willing to kill this person for him.

Danton apparently doesn't have very smart friends as the woman (Katie Wolfmeyer) then asked a male friend of hers to do the job. The male friend also happened to be a dispatcher for the Columbia, IL. police department. Wolfmeyer knew this when she asked him to do the job. When he realized this wasn't some kind of joke he notified the FBI and became a cooperative witness in the sting to catch Danton and Wolfmeyer.

Since the arrest there's been some speculation as to Danton's motive. The story about the debt appears to have been made up out of whole cloth. Instead, the speculation has focused on the following two statements (taken from the ESPN story linked above):

" The complaint alleges that Danton actually was trying to kill a male acquaintance after an argument Tuesday in which the two fought over Danton's "promiscuity and use of alcohol." The complaint said Danton feared the acquaintance, who is not named, would talk to St. Louis Blues management and ruin Danton's career.

In a telephone call recorded by authorities, the acquaintance asked why Danton wanted to kill him. According to the complaint, Danton broke down and sobbed, and explained that he ordered the killing because he "felt the acquaintance was going to leave him." (my emphasis added)

The acquaintance in question is male, which has led to speculation that Danton is in fact gay. King Kaufman from Salon has a good column here about whether the day of the gay Jackie Robinson may soon be at hand. There has since been a report that Danton was targeting his agent for the killing. Under those circumstances, if true it would also make sense, though not seemingly to the degree that would warrant Danton wanting to kill his agent. An agent certainly would be upset with his client over possible alcohol abuse and promiscuity due to the potential PR damage it could cause. And such irresponsible behavior could potentially motivate an agent to drop a client.

But would that alone enough to motivate Danton to want to kill his agent? Seems like a rather irrational response but this is hardly a normal situation. And alcohol abuse will lead to irrational behavior to be sure. However, I personally don't think that this seems like an entirely plausible explanation. The possibility that Danton might be gay and wanting to protect his secret seems a lot more realistic.

For me personally, it matters not one whit whether a professional athlete is gay or not. If he plays for my favorite team, he'll have my support as much as any other player on the team. If he plays for an opponent of my teams, I'll razz him as much as any other player on that team. His sexuality won't have a damn thing to do with it. But I know that I am (sadly) in the minority on this particular front. Kaufman speculates in his column that the fairly evenhanded displays of support from a couple of Danton's teammates indicates that the level of acceptance in locker rooms may be on the rise.

I think that this is a somewhat naive hope. I think that one only has to consider the perspective of Billy Beane, a former outfielder for the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres who came out after he retired. He wrote a book about his life in professional baseball that talked about the difficulties he endured, and the elaborate ruses he went through to try and keep his sexual preferences a secret. There's not much from his story to indicate there's any measure of acceptance in Major League locker rooms. He played in the late '80s/early '90s. There may be some who would say we've progressed as a society since then. I would point to the comments made by Jeremy Shockey who called Bill Parcells a "homo" prior to the last NFL season. Before that look at any one of a number of comments made by former Indians relief ace John Rocker. In professional sports it still appears that greatest disparagement you can throw at an opponent is to call him a "fag".

I think that in men's professional sports there's still a tendency to associate "masculinity" with the ability of a player and the perception of society's sports heroes. You heard a lot of jokes about Shawn Kemp's promiscuity, having fathered seemingly countless children by a number of different women. But you don't actively hear people condemning the lifestyle he leads beyond maybe saying he's setting a bad example.

There has been very little commentary about his problems with alcohol. That is as it should be. Alcoholism is a disease, and those that suffer from it deserve sympathy and support as they try to get their lives together. But you don't hear people really condemning Kemp for that lifestyle, and I think that is in part because being a hard drinking, hard partying figure is what we associate with male athletes in professional sports. It's what we're paying for ostensibly.

Rocker, Shockey, and others like them were condemned for saying the things they said. The impression I always got was it was as much for saying what they thought out loud, and thus being bad for business, and less for the actual attitudes themselves. If you listen to the hue and cry against gay marriage and how by wanting equal consideration this is somehow detrimental to conventional marriage, you have to figure if a player came out in a high profile sport like football, baseball, basketball, or hockey that those same people who say that gay marriage undermines straight marriage will find some way to argue that a gay high profile athlete will somehow be destroying the moral fabric of today's youth as well as (insert shocked gasps here) destroying the integrity of the game somehow.

I really want to believe that Kaufman's right, and that the support Danton has gotten in the wake of the allegations is a sign of progress. But I fear that what Kaufman hears is still the voice of the minority. I think that once the time comes and a high profile athlete comes out, it's going to be hellfire and brimstone coming from every corner. No one on earth will be happier than I if I am proved wrong. I hope that I will be. (edited for clarity and gross overpunctuation)