Liam Day explains why we still need to care if an NFL player is gay or not.
If it takes a pond 30 days to freeze over, and if the amount of water that freezes doubles each day, it will appear after the first 20 days that hardly any of the pond is frozen and even on the 29th day only half of it will be.
It could appear, then, to someone who wasn’t paying attention, that the pond froze overnight. Of course, that would have been to miss all that came before.
I say this because we seem to be approaching a tipping point. It feels like full recognition of LGBTQ rights in this country is doubling every day. Support for the Defense of Marriage Act among Democrats in the U.S. Senate has evaporated—though the point may be moot as a majority of the Supreme Court “appear skeptical” of the law’s constitutionality anyway—a Nevada lawmaker came out on the floor of the State Senate during debate there over gay marriage legislation, and with the recent passage of a bill in the Rhode Island State Senate, that state appears poised to join the ranks of those already granting full recognition.
This trend is being mirrored in the world of sports, most particularly in the NFL, which just announced this week that discouraging discrimination against gay players will be a point of emphasis during its orientation for rookies and at its Football Operations Meeting.
A year ago, no one was talking about this issue. Now, everyone seems to be.
To use a metaphor, the attention being paid to LGBTQ rights in the NFL and elsewhere in sports kicked off last fall when Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a public letter defending Brendon Ayanbadejo, then a member of the Baltimore Ravens who had been roundly criticized by Maryland General Assemblyman Emmett Burns for his vocal support of gay marriage.
Since then, former and perhaps future players have come out and talk swelled for a while that a group of current players were set to announce jointly that they were gay. The report has since been denied, but what can’t be denied is that momentum seems to be building to such a moment, which would be a first for the NFL.
Of course, we know there have been gay players in the NFL before. The NFL’s announcement that it will be emphasizing inclusion would speak to its knowledge that there are gay players in the league now. Rumors that teams were sniffing around about players’ sexual orientation at the rookie combine in February would seem to corroborate that.
Still, we have yet to see an openly gay player actively competing in the NFL.
I have written about this topic before (here and here) and I continue to believe that having NFL players (or athletes in other professional sports leagues) come out would be momentous. It would help break down the gender binaries that define our collective stereotypes of gay men. In other words, it would help dispel the idea that being gay somehow equals being feminine.
I realize that this is to emphasize the G in LGBTQ and that it is to prioritize the needs of gay men over the needs of our lesbian sisters. For that I apologize.
And to those who argue, as some did when commenting on my earlier piece, that we shouldn’t care whether a player is gay, I say that theoretically I agree. But the reason we need to care is because there are those in our country who believe that being homosexual is a sin and therefore not deserving of full recognition of the rights and benefits afforded others. They care and so we must also.
It is only when an NFL player announcing he’s gay no longer makes news that we will have reached a point where we can stop caring. Only when an openly gay player is a mundane fact and not a topic for dissection will we have achieved a level of equality in this country. Fortunately, we seem to be closer to that point than we ever have before.
There are times in history when moments coalesce, when reform’s momentum seems unstoppable. I may be overly optimistic, but I feel that way now. I feel like I’ve been watching the pond freeze—so very slowly—for 29 days now. I feel as if, tomorrow, at last, it will have fully frozen over.
Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer