Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Time for a Gay Professional Athlete Is Now

From the Huffington Post:
As over 100 million fans watched Super Bowl XLVII, there were two gay stories in the media. Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, a vocal activist for gay rights since 2009, continued his advocacy by leveraging the media surrounding the Super Bowl to raise awareness for LGBT equality. On the other side of the field, in a publicity fumble, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was taped in an interview saying, "We don't got no gay people on the team. You know, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. ... Nah, can't be ... in the locker room." The team immediately condemned the player's words, but the fumble continued as 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga denied having participated in the NFL's first video for the It Gets Better project, which supports LGBT youth, many of whom are bullied. Who would have thought that the 49ers' return to the Super Bowl, after an 18-year drought, would find them doing damage control around homophobia? And how ironic, given San Francisco's gay-friendly reputation!
What will the locker room be like? Are more professional athletes like Culliver than Ayanbadejo? A hostile locker-room atmosphere was depicted in last week's Necessary Roughness, with players mocking gay stereotypes; Chris Kluwe called the portrayal accurate. Nevertheless, as I pointed out earlier, marriage equality polls favorably among athletes. More likely, most players, like most Americans, aren't aware of, don't care about or don't think about the sexual orientation of their co-workers. These players are young, and locker rooms have long been home to mockery and explicit sexual jokes. While we tend to think of professional athletes as adults -- contemporaries of the audience -- these players are young adults. The NFL's average age is 26. Perhaps they lack emotional maturity, but they are also part of a generation raised to believe in tolerance and equality. Most importantly, they are trained to be teammates. And just as troops follow their generals and officers into battle, when coaches and team captains vocally support the openly gay players, the locker-room mentally will begin to shift toward acceptance. 

Allies are already in place to support this hypothetical player. NFL players Chris Kluwe, Connor Barwin and Brendon Ayanbadejo and legends Scott Fujita, Michael Strahan and Michael Irvin are all allies. Last week in the NBA, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant proved a supporter, chiding fans for anti-gay tweets. League executives are also supporters. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue both have gay family and are supporters. The NFL Players Association, like all player unions, is unwavering in its loyalty to its members. This hypothetical athlete will be fortified at all levels.

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