Liam Day believes that Kwame Harris’ case offers us a glimpse behind the male stereotype shrouding both gay athletes and male victims of domestic violence.
Kwame Harris, a former NFL offensive lineman, has been charged with felony domestic violence stemming from an incident in a Chinese restaurant in Menlo Park, California back in August. Coming on the heels of other cases of domestic violence involving current or former NFL players, this may not exactly qualify as news.
But there’s a catch. The person with whom Harris had had a relationship and is now alleged to have assaulted that summer evening is another man. In this way, Harris, whom the AP reports identifies as gay, but “is not very public about it,” has been outed. That does qualify as news.
As I’ve written on The Good Men Project before, openly gay professional athletes are about as rare as Yetis. As the AP notes, “Although a handful of former NFL players have come out as gay, none has while still wearing a uniform.” In the NBA, exactly one former player, John Amaechi, has come out.
In other words, homosexuality is the big pink elephant in the locker room no one will acknowledge. Why? Athletes are men, goddamn it, with a capital M, capital E, capital N. I can imagine this is no more true anywhere than in an NFL locker room. We know that, statistically, there have to be gay football players and I would assume that most, if not all, the players in the league know who they are. They are just not to be acknowledged and, I suspect, that is the way they prefer it.
But homosexuality in the NFL isn’t the only thing being exposed in this case. Harris has been charged with domestic violence. Usually when we think about domestic violence in this country, we think about a man beating up or intimidating a woman. We don’t usually associate it with man on man violence or even woman on man violence. Why is that?
Like the big pink elephant in the locker room, our perception of domestic violence is shaped by gender stereotypes. Men, real men, aren’t victims; they fight back. Conversely, men who fall victim to domestic violence must be effeminate. Otherwise, they would never allow themselves to be treated that way.
For the purpose of space, I will ignore for now the implication such views have for women. What I will say is that our persistent masculine stereotypes prevent us as a society from acknowledging that men can also be victims. These are the very same stereotypes that keep athletes in the closet. What happened in Menlo Park back in August gave us a very brief glimpse at what lies beneath those stereotypes.
Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP