Tackling the NFL's "Gay Problem"

| February 26th, 2013

Two things should be stated at the outset of this column.

Item #1. I have no evidence nor have I read any evidence that former Notre Dame linebacker and future NFL millionaire Manti Te’o is homosexual. For the purposes of this piece that is actually unimportant. When Katie Couric asks you if you’re gay on national television in front of a zillion people, the topic has been raised.

Item #2. I make my literary living writing for the theatre and, for half that time, the musical theatre. Homosexuals are as normal to my daily existence as iced coffee. I have no issue with their sexual behavior. I just hate it when they’re fucking late to rehearsal. (Side note: This has far more to do with them being actors than it does with their sexuality.)

Many of the NFL scouts and GMs interviewing Manti Te’o at this week’s Combine have asked about his sexuality. They are not asking because of personal bias – Bill Belichick went to Wesleyan for Christ’s sake. They are asking but they’re keenly aware of an overwhelming bias existing in their locker rooms.

The never dull lightning rod of a columnist called Jason Whitlock believes the NFL has a gay dilemma and believes Roger Goodell is tasked with solving it. Whitlock poignantly writes:

Let’s be honest. I think it’s reasonable to assume that 15 percent of NFL players are gay and/or bisexual. Generally speaking, they’re forced to conceal their sexuality out of fear of being ostracized and potentially released from the team.

They need to be set free, released from the grip of the most hostile work environment in America. Is there a more homophobic work setting than a football locker room? I can’t think of one.

I grew up in a football locker room. We wore our homophobia like a badge of honor. No one thought twice about using the F-word that rhymes with rag. Being gay was viewed as a disease that stripped you of all masculinity and most of your integrity.

This is expertly written but missing one key component.

Whitlock’s contention is that Goodell – through partnerships and penalties can help open the door for a homosexual to come freely out of the closet and into the locker room. This has not been achieved in any American sport but Whitlock believes it can happen in the NFL – America’s most masculine and violent of sports – with the help of the folks on Park Avenue.

But one needs to look no further than the world’s football to understand how naive an opinion that is. For the past decade FIFA, UEFA and a host of soccer federations have launched an aerial assault against racism both on and off the pitch. What has that organizational attack reaped? Higher tensions, monkey chants and banana peels thrown onto the pitches across Eastern Europe (literally) and everything surrounding the Ferdinands and Mario Balotelli.

Anti-gay sentiment will not exit NFL locker rooms because Roger Goodell does a commercial with GLAAD or invites Harvey Fierstein to announce the first pick of April’s draft. It will not exit NFL locker rooms because Goodell takes the Chicago Bears to see a Mario Cantone show. It will not exit the NFL locker room because like it or not the institution of the NFL is not IN their own team locker rooms.

After all, is the government in the living rooms of all those who hold anti-gay stances? Will any amount of gay marriage legalization influence the millions of Americans receiving their anti-gay instruction from velvet-draped megachurch stages across the map?

Aye, there’s the lighthouse.

We somehow forget how religious professional athletes are. We forget that an overwhelming majority of NFL players are African-Americans and rural whites – two groups that wear their love of the lord around their necks. We forget that these individuals do not treat homosexuals with the same rancor white baseball treated Jackie Robinson and those who followed. They don’t just historically hate gays. They believe “gay” is evil. They believe “gay” is an affront to their god. And one needs only to look at the Twitter feeds of the NFL’s more vocal to know where they place god’s opinion on their list of priorities.

So how can the NFL become a safe place for a homosexual to exist? The players must make it so. But that will not come to pass until more of the NFL is as outspoken as Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have been. That day will not come until religious institutions around this country stop hand-feeding an atmosphere of hate/rejection and begin embracing what I believed to be their primary means for existence: love and acceptance.

Some of you will read this column and believe I am advocating a change in the stance on homosexuality by various religions. I am not. I could care less what is taught in churches because I only ever set foot in them to watch two fools get married or mourn the loss of a life. I give no more authority to the Catholic Church than I give the local Elks Club and the church doesn’t have the courtesy to sell me cheap beer. What I do acknowledge is the influence of organized religion.

The “problem” – if you choose to believe there is a problem with bigotry towards a large group of human beings – is Sunday. Not the Sunday you’re thinking of. Instead of Jason Whitlock foolishly believing the power to change an individual’s deeply held belief rests with a sport’s commissioner, he might turn his attention to where these beliefs originate: the pulpit.