The “is he or isn’t he?” saga of former NFL All-Pro Kerry Rhodes suggests that keeping silent about one’s sexuality may no longer be an option.
Back in the 50s and 60s, the tabloid press speculated about the sexual orientation of heartthrob George Nader. Rory Calhoun and Guy Madison came under similar scrutiny. So did Roy “Rock Hudson” Fitzgerald, god rest his soul. For a time, the illusion of heteronormativity was preserved by means of a full-court press agent press: lavender marriages, pay-per-appearance galpals, publicity photos of these hunks changing tires or pumping iron. Some, like Sal Mineo, gave up the ghost rather early; others clung to their privacy until the bitter end.
Now, however, such cloak-and-dagger operations strike us as the quaint rituals of a benighted time. “Just be yourself,” goes the contemporary mantra (so long, of course, as that “yourself” isn’t too too transgressive!). This is, in the main, a positive development; after all, why shouldn’t each person be free to cultivate an identity commensurate with his or her needs and desires? When addressing the issue of his own sexuality, musician and spoken-word performer Henry Rollins insisted that he wasn’t gay, because if he were, he “would burn the closet down.”
Professional men’s athletics, particularly the high-revenue sports popular in North America, remains the last preserve of the closet that Rollins claims he would so eagerly destroy. In a perspicuous post that recently appeared on the sports commentary mega-site Grantland, critic Wesley Morris noted with approbation the casual, taken-for-granted homosexuality of future WNBA star Brittney Griner and opined that, far from a single spectacular “coming-out” admission by a male star, the character of the NFL and other leagues may simply be altered via the gradual admission of men, like openly gay NFL hopeful Alan Gendreau, who made their sexual preferences known long before entering the league.
This accords with other cultural breakthroughs that were not so. The legendary Jesse Jackson winning the presidency in 1984 would’ve been a genuine watershed for the civil rights movement; Obama’s triumph in 2008, by contrast, represented a not-at-all-unexpected victory by a blandly competent public servant with an Ivy League pedigree. Outing Tom Brady or Tiger Woods might change the game, but Alan Gendreau signing with the woebegone Cleveland Browns would move the needle not at all. Yet this is fine, perfectly fine–the future is coming, and with it will come the ascent of more people who are free to “be themselves” (again, so long as “themselves” aren’t too too transgressive).
Pity poor Kerry Rhodes during this liminal moment, though. The tabloid media has got him cornered, dead to rights, and now, on the basis of photos like the ones below, he is being compelled to spill the beans.
But wait! Rhodes is far from finished. No, he has an ace up his sleeve:
According to a member of BA who claims to be close to the situation, Kerry Rhodes is engaged (to a woman) and set to get married this summer. The woman has yet to be named but is said to be a model who is “drama free” and prefers to “stay out of the lime light”. Another person who also claims to be close to the situation says that she is a “corporate chick from DC” that does not “live off of him” or “prefer to be a Baller’s wife”. Maybe Kerry’s unidentified fiance models and is a corporate chick at the same time. It is possible, I guess. The wedding is said to take place in June and according to one of these sources Kerry has dated this young woman for 10 years.
It’s rare to see the marriage card played at such a late date, particularly for someone who isn’t a Scientologist, but there you have it. And really, given the antediluvian attitudes of some American footballers against whom Rhodes has played, all of this–the caution, the possible surreptitious second life, the accompanying self-loathing and denial–makes sense. Michael Vick’s brother Marcus, who has fallen on hard times following a semi-successful career quarterbacking Virginia Tech to second-tier bowl games, certainly wasted little time in heaping homophobic scorn upon Rhodes’ former teammates on the Arizona Cardinals:
Marcus Vick, alas, has been too busy evading arrest to clarify this remark, but the point stands. Rhodes, whether involved with Russell “Hollywood” Simpson or the “drama-free” female model to whom he claims he is engaged, is in an awkward position. He could give the tabloid media the confession it craves, only to have to deal with more vitriol from the likes of Vick and rival NFC West cornerback Chris Culliver, who claimed that he “can’t have that sweet stuff” in the locker room. On the other hand, it’s possible that there’s nothing to confess. Rhodes may indeed be engaged to be married, may indeed have a legitimate platonic reason for cavorting with Simpson, or may indeed be legitimately bisexual (an orientation that is much more difficult to justify in an era that demands such “is he or isn’t he” answers) as well as totally open with his fiancée about this fact.
“Things aren’t like they used to be, and they never were.” George Nader and Rock Hudson would likely have preferred our time to theirs; the burden of constantly pretending to be someone else is a weight that few would wish to bear. Yet for the confused and uncertain, does the pressure to disclose an ironclad sexual identity constitute a similar punishment? Such disclosures are certainly not mandated by the LGBTQIA community, which represents an ever-broader coalition of orientations and interests, but rather appear to be a nod from the tabloid media to the interests of its primarily heterosexual and still surprisingly conservative audience.
Marcus Vick must know if Kerry Rhodes has “the sweet stuff.” Chris Culliver wouldn’t dream of putting his own 100% red-blooded heterosexuality on the line against someone who may secretly find him attractive. Dr. Phil McGraw, that paragon of psychiatric probity, will settle for nothing less from Ronaiah Tuiasosopo than a full confession of his homosexual lust for future gridiron great Manti Te’o.
Forced outings under duress make for great theater, but such imposed labels are nothing more than straitjackets. I do not profess to know the intentions of Rhodes or Tuiasosopo, but I do believe that the business of ” defin[ing] one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe” should remain a distinctly personal endeavor. Rushing to judge those engaged in that process does them and everyone else a disservice.