Homosexuality and the NFL

With the Supreme Court holding hearings and likely to make a decision on gay marriage in the next few months, the issue of gay rights has come to the front of many peoples’ minds. There are now rumors that an active NFL player is considering coming out publicly and attempting to continue his career. This would be a big step for both the NFL and our society in general. There has never been a professional athlete that has been active while being publicly out. There are many factors at play, but generally speaking, our society has reached or is quickly approaching a point where sexual orientation will no longer be a major issue. I realize that ultimately I am talking about sports and that athletics are not the end-all-be-all in the world. However, professional sports do have a big influence on people, especially children. When I was young, kids wanted to be like Mike. Now they have Robert Griffin and myriad other professional athletes. It was a big deal when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. It will be an analogous situation when the first openly gay athlete steps onto the field.

Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo are two of the most vocal in their support of gay rights and stances against discrimination and bigotry by people involved with the NFL. Earlier this week, Chris Clemons posted some tweets to the ether fielding various responses. I normally don’t respond to NFL players since most of what they tweet is publicity or superficial nothingness to other players, but this caught my attention and I decided to respond. To Clemons’ credit, he did reply to me a couple times and was open and honest in his responses. He seemingly wanted to clarify what he was trying to say. Others in the Twitterverse decided that I was using my “tolerance” to bully an NFL lineman. (This mental image alone is priceless.) So it’s out in the open, here is what our series of tweets looked like:

Christopher Clemons ‏@chrisclemons91
Who on Gods earth is this person saying he’s coming out of the closet in the NFL?

Hanley B. ‏@hbonynge
I’m really not liking @chrisclemons91’s tweets on a gay NFL player coming out right now. Locker rooms need to get over their homophobia.

Christopher Clemons ‏@chrisclemons91
@hbonynge No one said anything about be a homophobic. I just think something’s should be left at home.

Hanley B. ‏@hbonynge
@chrisclemons91 I get that. Focus on business. But how does being gay mean your personal life isn’t at home the same as a straight guy?

Super Sonic Fan ‏@SuperSonicFan1
@hbonynge @chrisclemons91 such am absolutely ridiculous thing to say. #12thMan stands behind you Chris, no need to bullied by the “tolerant”

Hanley B. ‏@hbonynge
@SuperSonicFan1 @chrisclemons91 I hardly think I’m bullying Clem. If you feel bullied, Chris, my apologies. I just prefer an inclusive team.

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@hbonynge @supersonicfan1 I never said he would be abandoned. I don’t judge people for what they do. I only react off how they treat me.

Hanley B. ‏@hbonynge
@chrisclemons91 Fair enough. That’s all anybody can ask for.

In all fairness to Clemons, he seems to have seen some error and softened his stance, backtracked, or tried to clarify what he was saying. That’s fine. I understand that and was simply commenting on his tweets. I am glad to know that Clemons would not abandon a gay teammate and would only judge him on how that person treated him. As humans, being judged by our character is all any of us can ever ask of anyone else.

I do think the NFL can take a more proactive stance on this issue though. The NFL often promotes, to an exceptional level, its partnership and support of our armed services, which now accept and do not question gay service members. The NFL could follow suit in laying down a foundation of tolerance that would enable out gay athletes to feel more accepted. As many of Clemons’ other tweets demonstrate, he seems to be somewhat confused, yet open, about this issue.

His series of tweets talk about how a person’s sexuality should be left at home:

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@***** No I’m just saying its not everyone else’s business if your gay! That’s all I’m saying.

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@***** exactly! Leave your love life at home.

This is like saying a person’s ethnicity should be left at home. A person can leave their “gayness” at home about as well as Clemons can leave his “blackness” at home. A person’s identity is part of them. It doesn’t mean they will play any better or any worse. It also shouldn’t mean that his teammates treat him any differently in the locker room or on the field and Clemons’ earlier tweet seems to affirm that he wouldn’t “abandon” him if it was his teammate.

Clemons seems to be uninformed regarding the social and historical issue, though. Tweets such as:

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@***** If you didn’t do it when you were in high school or college then why wait til your in the NFL? Whoever he is he didn’t just start

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@***** I’m not one to judge anyone because that is there personal preference.

There are a couple problems here. I’ll address the second tweet first. Describing homosexuality as a “preference” is a misconception. Gay people choose to be gay in the same way that I choose to be straight, they don’t. There is no choice. We are born the way we are and our sexual orientation is no more a choice than our ethnicity. Clemons could be using the word “preference” loosely and meaning “orientation,” but it is an important distinction to make.

As for the first tweet as to why a gay athlete might not have come out earlier in his life this shows a general ignorance on the issue as a whole. First, in the big three professional sports there has never been an out gay athlete so the risks, financially, socially, and health-wise, are considerable. Many team owners are conservative and not generally sympathetic to the cause of equal rights for gay people. (We need to only look back to former Sonics part-owner Aubrey McClendon’s political contributions while the team was still in Seattle.) These owners may approach their teams purely as business and not care about a player’s sexual orientation one way or the other, as long as the player performed. Owners could also refuse to sign an out player therefore diminishing his opportunities in the NFL. An out player could also be targeted on the field for being gay by opponents. Taking unusually hard or an increased amount of cheap-shots is bad for one’s health and career. I am not saying that these things will happen but simply that they could happen, and that risk alone is enough for a player to not have come out previously. Clemons’ own worry over a gay player dividing a locker room should at least clarify this issue for him.

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@***** it doesn’t matter how good they are. That will immediately separate a lockerroom and divide a team.

Christopher Clemons@chrisclemons91
@***** I’m not against anyone but I think it’s a selfish act. They just trying to make themselves bigger than the team.

A gay person would only separate a locker room if a player’s intolerance of that player’s sexuality led them to make an issue out of it. A person’s height, weight, hair color, skin color, IQ, religion or anything else shouldn’t lead a divided locker room and neither should a person’s sexuality. Things like domestic or sexual abuse, which is common in the NFL, should be a much more divisive issue within team than sexual orientation.

A person being open about whom they are with people they go into battle with every week does not make them “bigger than their team.” If anything, it makes them more one with their team. Personally, I would be a much fiercer and more loyal teammate if I could be myself and know I was wholly accepted than if I had to pretend and hide who I was from my comrades. Players tweet daily about their religion, pray on the field, and regularly thank God in interviews because that is who the player is. I’d argue that that puts a player above the team more than a person’s sexuality.

Russell Wilson, who is a devout Christian, is a model athlete. He finishes every interview with “Go Hawks” and I’ve never heard him say anything but praise for his team in interviews. He tweets about his faith, but when it is about his team, the team comes first. That is commendable and I believe that he would have no issue with a gay teammate.

I think that the NFL could take a proactive role in educating its players on this issue and do everything it can to mitigate the risks a player would face in coming out. It should embrace and cultivate tolerance within the individual teams and across the league as a whole. This doesn’t mean that players aren’t allowed to have their own personal beliefs on the issue, it just means that players will be expected understand that their beliefs are just that, personal.

I would be proud and honored if my team had the first openly gay player in the NFL. It would be a great sign of the quality of character in regards to the city, the franchise, the individual collection of players, and, perhaps most importantly, the 12th Man.

An ideal conclusion would be when Chris Clemons’ tweet asking

Christopher Clemons ‏@chrisclemons91
@***** @***** […] Why is this news worthy! It’s gays everywhere and just cause its a football player it big news

is a reality; a gay player wouldn’t be newsworthy.

Until that happens, though, it is newsworthy, and ignorance of that fact and the reasons for it are best left unsaid. Football is the biggest professional sport in the United States. A lot of things that happen in the NFL are big news and the NFL wants it that way. The NFL should support having the first openly gay player. It would be yet another thing that sets it apart from professional basketball and baseball.

A league full of men who have no problem wearing pink (a color that in my childhood was often derided as being “gay”) for an entire month every season should have no problem also supporting equal rights for all its players. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and frequent and honest discussion of them is always a good thing. Beliefs become an issue when they cost others their rights.

This article is not intended to pick on or isolate Chris Clemons in any way. I do not know him personally, and I do not believe that he is homophobic or bigoted. From his various tweets today, I believe that he is open and would accept a gay teammate. I use Clemons’ tweets/statements as a stand-in for what I believe are common misconceptions and beliefs across the NFL.

There are obviously players that are much more tolerant and have no problem with homosexuality in general or with a teammate. There are also players that could, or would, divide a locker room over an out teammate. I believe it is these players that should be the issue. Not the gay ones. The locker room and field are an athlete’s workplace. A person’s sexual orientation should be as much of an issue there as in any other business. Knowing that there are gay people at my gym doesn’t stop me from using the showers or locker room. It doesn’t stop me from riding a bus, going to work, or attending a game. And when I go to a game, I want my team to be the best. Being the best means being the most cohesive which requires a tolerant and open environment. Cohesion can’t exist when players have to hide in integral part of themselves. The team whose colors I wear will be an even better team when the players feel safe being who they are openly.

Editor’s comment: The opinions expressed here are that of the author, and are not the official viewpoint of 12th Man Rising or Fansided. We understand the fact that there many differing beliefs, and we respect the diversity of opinions on this topic. 

Please be sure to keep all comments civil. Those that aren’t will be deleted. 

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Tags: Brendon Ayanbadejo Chris Clemons Chris Kluwe Gay Rights NFL Seahawks

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