Gay Football, What?

Disclaimer: I am not a sports person, and I don’t know all the correct terms for football, or for most sports for that matter. I’m happy with that, and it is with a great level of discomfort that I venture into this sports-world.

As the title may suggest, this post has to do with athletes who are gay. And specifically, this post relates to the recent announcement by Michael Sam that he is gay.

First, let me say: gay sports people exist – even in footbal! They always have, and they always will. It is funny to me that a football player has no concerns about showering naked with his teammates, but is mortified that he could be showering with a gay teammate, as Jonathan Vilma from the New Orleans Saints recently shared. Even if, at times, if this could be the same person. I picture Vilma slapping Sam on the butt congratulating him for a good game one day, and shrieking that he feels violated for being wanted by Sam the next. Give me a break!

Jon Stewart reminded us that even Vilma succumbed to the stereotype that when a gay man is around, every straight man becomes the infatuation. You know the one, the “of course you want me, you’re gay right?” stereotype. I know it takes a huge ego to be a football player, but I’m surprised he could fit through any doors with his.

Vilma tried to clarify his comments on a recent CNN AC360 report by saying “There is no concern. The point I was trying to make or the context I was trying to take it in is that I’ve never been put in that situation. No player in the NFL has been put in that situation … No one in the NFL for the past however many years has experienced this before, so this is all new to everybody. This is new territory.” Wrong! The only “new” thing is that you now know about it, and kick in the above stereotype: “gay man in the room, he wants me!”  Before you didn’t and it didn’t bother you, now you know and now it does. That’s an internal issues Vilma needs to work through. And Vilma, of all the players, should completely understand how words that are said about you (real or not) could impact you in the public eye.

A number of commentators have discussed the idea of the “accepted” types of people in the NFL that do not appear to make their team mates uncomfortable: dog killers, rapists, murderers, criminals in general; yet have major concerns over a gay dude on their team. I mean, WTH?!

Both Jon Stewart and Dale Hansen (a local WFAA sports anchor) quipped about the types of people that the NFL “welcomed” and being gay did not make the list. Hansen’s is particular impressive as this is his world, and he speaks from a place that appears to be very real and honest.

Side note: As I was writing this post, I saw that Darren Sharper (a former New Orleans Saints player) was charged with suspicion of seven rapes and 11 druggings in four states. You know, because as a straight man, every woman wants him – when they are drugged.

When a person tells me that it’s okay to play football with a guy that does illegal activities, but not okay to play football with a law-abiding gay guy, something is really wrong with this world; and those people. Like REALLY wrong.

This whole story ponders the question, is the NFL really doing enough to change the culture of their game. The NFL has a Commitment to Diversity statement, which says “We must overcome the existing cynicism by making progress in both the culture and composition of the NFL organization.” With the number of players that are not role models playing the game, how is the NFL changing the composition to stop glamorizing these players? Whether it be about a player raping a woman, killing a dog, obstructing justice in a murder trial, being racist, or a player tell the world he feels uncomfortable with a gay guy looking at his junk in the shower, my confidence level in the cultural change at the NFL is not high.

Often words are not reflected in the actions one takes. The NFL has a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation (as I’m sure it does with statements against supporting criminal activities), but like most organizational policies, not every employee understands what that means to them, and the consequences of not adhering to them. Upon hearing the news of Michael Sam’s announcement, NFL Commission Roger Goodell stated “He’s proud of who he is and had the courage to say it. Now he wants to play football. We have a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. We will have further training and make sure that everyone understands our commitment. We truly believe in diversity and this is an opportunity to demonstrate it.”

Football players are often looked up to as heroes to young kids. I can’t imagine any parent wanting their child to be want to be just like any of these guys, and if you are one of those parents … shame on you!

Let’s see if now is the time for words can truly be turned into actions.