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Sharks send mixed signals on LGBT night
by Roger Brigham

The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants have held LGBT nights for years. (This year's LGBT night for the world champion Giants will be Monday, August 29, versus the Chicago Cubs.) The San Francisco 49ers started holding LGBT fan appreciation nights in the Castro after Garrison Hearst's comment in 2002 to a Fresno Bee reporter that, "Hell, no, I don't want any faggots on my team!" The Golden State Warriors held its second LGBT night last month. Now, the Bay Area's entry in the country's other major sport, ice hockey, is making its first tentative foray into the field.

The San Jose Sharks, which began the week atop the tightly packed Pacific Division, will hold its first LGBT night Thursday, March 31, at HP Pavilion with a 7:30 game against the Dallas Stars.

Now, whether this is "a big deal" or "no big deal" depends very much on your perspective. Several players from the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball have come out after finishing their playing careers, and numerous teams in all three of those sports have actively factored the LGBT community into the marketing and public relations plans.

No former NHL player has ever come out. LGBT nights in the league are unheard of. And even with San Jose's historic first, the Sharks are playing this one cool.

"There's not a huge promotion," Ken Arnold, Sharks senior director of communications, told the Bay Area Reporter . "This is just another group coming to our game, buying a block of tickets to sit with each other."

Giants or Warriors LGBT nights might feature entertainment from Cheer SF, the Gay Men's Chorus, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, or pre-game competition with players from the local gay leagues. No such distractions with the Sharks. An email sent by the group ticket sales department referring to the game as "our first ever LGBT Night!" says fans will save up to $12 per ticket, an unspecified portion of the sales will go toward San Jose Pride, and fans will receive a commemorative Sharks LGBT Night beanie, but Arnold said, "It's not an evening. It's not a night. It just means if you buy a block of tickets you pay less and you sit in a special section. It happens with several other groups throughout the year."

After Brendan Burke, the son of Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, came out in 2009, his father became a strong advocate for LGBT rights. He has continued his advocacy since the death of Brendan Burke in a car crash a year ago and in fact is a supporter of the youth sports program mentioned below.

Asked if the genesis of the Sharks LGBT night was stimulated by Burke's advocacy, Arnold said, "I think that would be a stretch."

Offered through the San Jose Pride Web site (www.sanjosepride.com), the $36 tickets sold out swiftly but a few $73 and $46 tickets were reported still available this week.

GLSEN unveils youth sports program

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network announced last week the launch of Changing the Game: the GLSEN Sports Project. The sports project (see Jan. 27 Jock Talk) focuses on sports and physical education programs from kindergarten through high school and working to create a safer and more inclusive environment for athletes regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity.

The program's website, sports.glsen.org, offers resources such as videos from supporters about making a difference, and recommended practices for athletes, parents, coaches and administrators.

The project is led by Pat Griffin, formerly director of the It Takes a Team campaign with the Women's Sports Foundation, and has a 19-member advisory group. The group also lists an All Star team of athlete supporters, including tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, former major league baseball player Billy Bean, former NBA player John Amaechi, former Stanford basketball player Candice Wiggins, and former Cal linebacker Scott Fujita.

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