So it’s been about a week since Jason Collins came out as sort of the “Gay Athlete” pioneer, and I’ve got to admit, I was extremely surprised that the first athlete to do it was black. It was also a huge surprise that the first athlete to come out publicly came out of the NBA and not the NFL, simply because there’s been so much talk about players coming out in the NFL as of late.
I was watching a broadcast today where Matt Birk, Harvard Graduate and Super Bowl Champion/Pro Bowl Center was discussing the topic of gay athletes in the NFL locker room, and made it sound like this would be something that would go over just fine. I think the thing that bothers me the most about how the NFL is choosing to tackle this topic is clearly evasive. Make no mistake about it, this issue is far more about race or class than sexuality.
The NFL is trying to paint a picture of tolerance in the league. This is a hotbed topic on every NFL or sports talk show, and they’ve shown us several players that are staunch advocates of openly gay players in the league. Let’s take a look at these players a little bit more closely.
Probably at the forefront of this movement is Chris Kluwe, former Vikings punter and open supporter of gay marriage. Chris is also a player from Southern California with a UCLA education. The aforementioned Matt Birk is a Harvard Graduate from St. Paul Minnesota. Other gay rights activists in the football world include Brendan Ayanbadejo (a UCLA grad himself from Santa Cruz), and Scott Fujita (a native of Camarillo, CA and Cal graduate). Three of these players are white, and ALL of them come from very liberal parts of the US.
The obvious question here is that if these veteran players are a “cross section” of the NFL, with various levels of experience playing multiple positions and for many clubs, why has a gay player not come forward yet?
The answer, to me, is just as obvious: These players are NOT the voice of the real NFL.
I played two sports in my youth, football and hockey. In South Philadelphia, there were some huge racial differences in those locker rooms, football being predominately black, and hockey being predominately white.
This DNA of the locker rooms were very different. My hockey locker room was often more playful, and for lack of a better term “more gay.” Guys were quicker to make gay innuendos, and flirt with each other in a humorous way. When I got to high school, which for me was about 50/50 black and white, I noticed that this type of humor was met with tons of abrasion and sometimes met violently by black athletes and students in our school. Now that I think about it, most of my black friends, fellow comedians, and even employees I’ve worked with have displayed a strong level of homophobia anytime the topic is brought up in a safe setting.
Though we see NFL analysts and commentators speaking positively on the subject of sexual preference in the Media, the short of it is that these players are not a representation of the current NFL. Most of the leagues rosters are made up of black players from large schools, primarily from southern schools with loose academic requirements.
Now I wish that I could say that everyone is equal in this, but that’s just not been my experience. Homophobia just runs far more rampant in black people than in white..particularly in the south. I don’t know why, but it’s just a fact.
The comedian brain in me can find several humorous rationalizations. Maybe there was a mostly naked boat ride a few hundred years ago where too many black dude’s dicks were involuntarily smashed against each other for way too long, the idea of naked men together just takes them back to a dark place. That’s one theory.
Don’t let this article twist you up. I have no solution prepared. I just really wish that the NFL would be honest in how they deal with this, but they won’t, because it requires a lot of bravery and will lead to a lot of press.
Owners don’t draft players that will make great politicians, they draft and sign players to win games. Those players are rated on their athleticism, not their intellect, or ability to tolerate modern ideals of life choices. NFL teams and owners won’t cop to that, because despite the honesty that would display, the short answer is that they don’t care about cohesive locker rooms that welcome gay players with open arms, they care about winning games, selling jerseys, and filling stadiums. Gay players don’t do that, GOOD players do.
Too many of the good players don’t want gay players around, and the NFL and it’s ownership group will continue to shove the Birk’s and Kluwe’s out into the press to speak on the subject to keep up appearances. Meanwhile those players have all been cut, or forced to retire.
Bringing up this subject will only force the league to take more responsibility for the character make up of their players, which they have their hands full with already. It might also force the NCAA to look at the basic academic requirements of their athletes harder, and take more responsibility in understanding that these men aren’t simply playing a game, but in many cases are relied upon in their communities as heroes and role models, and maybe there’s no room for ignorance in that.
I’d rather see guys like Mike Wallace rewarded for their honest “gay-bashing” remarks on twitter than told to keep quiet. It might actually START a real conversation about the TRUE hurdles that gay athletes face.
The bottom line is that the NFL is terrified how the public will react to their heroes being gay, because quite frankly, they aren’t ready for it. Fans love to speculate about who it is, but they never fathom that it’s the player they love, who’s fathead is hanging up in their kid’s rooms. What if it’s Tom Brady? Or Aaron Rodgers? Or Peyton Manning?
You’re right, my odds would probably be on Eli in that matchup too.