During the build up to the Super Bowl, Chris Culliver was kind enough to remind us just how embedded an anti-gay attitude might be in NFL locker rooms. Now we could be set to find out soon if he represents the majority. Very soon.
Earlier today Mike Freeman of CBS Sports wrote that through multiple interviews with current and former players, he’s been told that a “gay NFL player is strongly considering coming out publicly within the next few months”, and once he does that the player will attempt to continue his career. That’s a vague timeline for a highly sensitive and divisive issue, and therefore it’s inherently not the kind of subject matter which usually has a timeline. But there you have it: according to one highly sourced and highly respected member of the NFL media, there’s a strong possibility that the league will have its first openly gay player to start the 2013 regular season next fall.
Culliver’s words haven’t effected the player in question, according to Freeman, and neither did the controversy/archaic absurdity of reports that during interviews at the Scouting Combine last month, teams were asking draft prospects about their sexuality. In fact, what we the fans assume will be the greatest obstacle for a gay player coming out — the locker room, and the apparent toxic and closed-minded moral environment therein — isn’t even this players’ worst fear.
No, he fears the fans mostly.
This player’s true concern, I’m told, is not the reaction inside an NFL locker room but outside of it. The player fears he will suffer serious harm from homophobic fans, and that is the only thing preventing him from coming out. My sources will not say who this alleged player is.
But really, as fans you should care about one thing, and it’s the same thing the players’ coaches and teammates care about. When the day comes that this anonymous player announces his sexuality, it will be a historic event simply because there’s never been an openly gay player in any major North American sport. For that reason it will dominate headlines for weeks, jumping the divide between the sports media and mainstream media as it’s devoured by a politically charged American public which debates issues tied to gay rights (most notably same-sex marriage, of course) constantly, and especially during every election cycle. It’ll be a talking point on ESPN and CNN alike.
Once that fades, though, and once the initial discourse begins to slow, here are the only questions that should matter to you as a fan:
- Is this player good at football?
- If he’s a starter, is he truly better than every other player on the depth chart behind him?
- Will he help my team win football games?
These are the same questions we ask about every player, whether it’s the middle of the season, right now during draft time, or at the end of training camp as cuts are coming down. Maybe I’m being hopelessly idealistic and Utopian in saying that one day should this player follow through with his plans, he’ll just be another player. But a guy can hope that logic wins the day at some point.
Scott Fujita, the Browns linebacker who’s among many NFL players and representatives with their names on a brief filed to the Supreme Court that supports marriage equality, told Freeman that inside the locker room, the NFL is ready for an openly gay player. The Chris Cullivers of the league are in the minority.
“I honestly think the players of the NFL have been ready for an openly gay player for quite some time now,” said Fujita, a free agent linebacker who has played for the Chiefs, Cowboys, Saints and Browns. “Trust me, the coming out of a player would create much bigger waves outside the locker room than inside. The way I’ve seen the conversation around LGBT issues evolve, especially in the past few years, has been encouraging. Guys are more accepting than they used to be. Even those who raise personal objections to homosexuality, some of whom are good friends of mine, would still be able to coexist and accept a gay teammate.”
He sounds confident, and after being in the league for 11 years in four different locker rooms, Fujita would have a good sense of the league’s internal attitude. So would Chris Kluwe, Brandon Ayanbadejo, Connor Barwin, Scott Shanle, D’Qwell Jackson, Tom Crabtree, and Eric Winston, all of whom have also signed off on that Supreme Court brief.
The players could be ready. In time, we’ll find out if the public shares that feeling.