On the wake of the Supreme Court hearing arguments over California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, many reports indicate that a current NFL player is strongly considering coming out as gay in the near future.
A move like this would be unprecedented. Even for the few professional athletes who have come out, the step was made many years after retirement, when the limelight and the media exposure wouldn’t be so bright.
But for a current player, a player who would continue to line up on the field, share a locker room and for months at a time, essentially live with his teammates, such a move requires even more strength. If this comes to fruition, there will be media coverage. There will be supporters and dissenters, support and backlash. In a downtime for the NFL marked only with the annual NFL Draft next month, it will be headline news not only on ESPN and other sports networks, but on the top of the news and on the front page of newspapers nationwide.
It is also the right time for this to finally happen. Men’s professional sports have a stigma of overt masculinity, testosterone-fueled competition and traditionally, little tolerance for anything that would go against that.
Critics argue that an NFL locker room, a decidedly all-male place where players change, shower and do other typically more private actions in the company of the team would not accept a gay player. But according to this player, it is not his fellow players he fears. Some players have taken the initiative and have become avid supporters of marriage equality, namely Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brandon Ayanbadejo and former Cleveland Browns linebacker, Scott Fujita. The three players, among others, wrote a brief which was submitted to the Supreme Court concerning marriage equality. While they have likely been the most vocal, Fujita said that he thinks “the players of the NFL have been ready for an openly gay player for quite some time now.”
According to the still-closeted player, there is only one thing holding him back about coming clean and being honest about himself: the fans. Not his teammates or opponents or the demands that being a professional athlete brings. It’s the spectators; people like you and me.
Take a homophobic fan. Then take a mixture of team pride, homophobia and a little bit (or a lot) of alcohol and herein the real danger lies. He will face heckles, taunts, even items thrown out on the field, all of which is possible, if not likely. Fans opposing his decision may stop supporting the team, or refuse to buy tickets. Teammates will be accosted about playing with him, about sharing a locker room with a man who likes men.
Others will jump on the idea that the player is only doing it for publicity. In a story for CBSSports, Mike Freeman wrote that “The player would attempt to continue his career.” Some have been quick to jump on the idea that this player is a fringe talent and is only going public about it now to gain recognition and job security. Or—and, to me, the most likely scenario—the player is unsure if the backlash and negativity from the fans would even be worth playing through. He is not sure, I am not sure. It’s never been done before.