The NFL is bracing itself for the first openly gay player, Michael Sam, to join its ranks. While Sam will not be the first gay player to play in the NFL, he will be the first to do so openly and unashamedly. There have been countless discussions, arguments, and theories about this topic and that is not going to change any time soon. The reality of the situation is that Sam will most likely be drafted in a little over a month and the NFL, its players, and its front office folks will have to deal with the new kid in the room accordingly.
It seems to me that with the number of players who have played well and have also been gay would allow people to ease up a little on the hatred, animosity, and frustration shown toward a potential gay player playing with them on their team. The San Francisco 49ers defensive back, Chris Culliver, decided he would enlighten people to his perspective on a gay teammate during media week before the Super Bowl in New Orleans. "I don't do the guys. I don't do that. We don't have any gays on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff." Culliver added that a player should "Come out 10 years later after that" when referring to a player choosing to reveal his sexuality. The 49ers quickly went on record in opposition of Culliver's remarks, "There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community."
Minnesota Vikings star running back, Adrian Peterson also said that he "is not with it" in terms of being accepting of gay players in the NFL. Former Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, was released from the team for what he believes are reasons linked to his support of gay marriage. According to ESPN, Peterson said that he considered Kluwe a good friend, but that he does not believe that the Vikings released him to due his views on gay marriage.
So what is the big deal about a gay player anyways? Are athletes really that concerned about a guy who likes other guys playing on their team? Do they really think they have never played with a gay player before? Do they think they don't encounter gay people on a day-to-day basis whether they are at the grocery store, the car wash, or the gym? Have they never watched an episode of Will & Grace or Modern Family?
The big deal is it is what is unknown. Some of these athletes think they have never played with a gay athlete, so they are nervous about how it will work. Can they still call people princess, queer, and faggot if they screw up a play? Can they use misogynistic terms and have ape-like tendencies when it comes to the points of view they express? Is nothing sacred?!
The fact of the matter is, they will not be able to use homophobic slurs anymore, not without potentially alienating one of their teammates and making him feel like an outsider. The NFL culture is one of belonging and taking care of its own. These athletes do not want to disrupt the harmony that is required to produce a winning product on the field. The NFL Network aired a documentary on the '93 Houston Oilers earlier this year and it was later revealed that there were two players on that team that were gay. Everyone knew they were gay, nobody talked about it, and they were one helluva team. The only thing that matters in the NFL is winning, so if an openly gay player can contribute to the team and help put up a W in February, no one in that locker room or front office will care if he goes home to a man or a woman at the end of his work day.
There have been recent rumors about Aaron Rodgers and Kerry Rhodes being gay players in the NFL. Manti Te'o was famously asked if he was gay during a Katie Couric interview. All three of these athletes have emphatically denied that they are gay in their own separate ways, but it's a shame that they have to address these rumors at all.
While there is no clear evidence that Te'o may be gay, his vehement denial of the accusation rang loud and clear, causing some people to speculate that he may in fact be gay, but is ashamed to admit it. Rodgers is accused of having a homosexual relationship with his former assistant, but went on to deny the rumor on ESPN stating, "I'm not gay. I really, really like women. That's all I can say about that." Rhodes had a questionable photo of he and his former assistant in a playful pose, Rhodes shirtless carrying his assistant, yet Rhodes also denies he is gay.
All three of these players are good to brilliant athletes in the NFL and if any of them are gay, they would be doing the LGBT community a great service by choosing to live their life in the open. Rodgers is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (isn't it great to know that the Niners have beat him four consecutive games???), and has a Super Bowl ring and MVP, so would any fans from Green Bay beg for Favre back and denounce their most recent Super Bowl if Rodgers did come out?
The fact remains, the NFL will have an openly gay player in the very near future, and there is very little that can be done about it. What needs to happen is the NFL, its representatives, its players, and its fans need to be concerned about what that player does on the field instead of what he does off of it. Who someone chooses to be in a relationship with has no bearing on how they perform on the field. There are players who struggle with substance abuse, who are violent toward other human beings, and who commit crimes the require the law to be involved, and yet, a main focus of discussion this offseason has been the sexuality of a player who does not play for any team yet. There is something wrong with the things that are being focused on and the things that seem to matter to people when a player is completely picked apart for being true to himself and the arrest rate in the NFL is where it is.