Eagles Players’ Opinions Vary When Asked About Prospect of Gay Teammate
Philly Mag printed an article that, in my opinion was terribly written but explored a topic worth discussing. Essentially, the author attempted to examine how much fans and athletes care about the sexual orientations of athletes. Unfortunately, the article ends up being pretty light and fairly offensive by loosely speculating about the homosexuality of one Phillies player and drudging up former NBA player John Amaechi who has for years delighted in what I call “anonymous outing” of pro-athletes (am I being sensitive?). Combined it made the piece more gratuitous than substantive.
However, it did provoke some thought…so bear with me while I explore my stream of consciousness!
I think we tend to confuse ‘caring’ with ‘thinking negatively.’ I remember a time when Americans were confused by the British obsession with celebrity. Yet here we are years later just as obsessed with our sports and entertainment heroes as they were then–if not more. (If you don’t believe it, check the ridiculous obsession with Tim Tebow and the high creep factor around fans of Beyonce and Jay-z’s relationship and baby) I find that Americans want to know everything every Z list sorta celebrity does and who they do it with and so yeah, in that sense, they care about athletes’ sexual orientation.
But I don’t know that, at this point, a gay athlete couldn’t sell jerseys, shoes, or that he’d be ostracized in the locker-room by other players. Of course, I think it’d be a difficult prospect in the beginning but it seems we’ve moved into a phase in society where money/celebrity blunts criticism rather than ratcheting it up as used to be the norm. Where taking the politically correct road (WHO CARES IF HE’S GAY??!!) is a badge of honor rather than a forced position. The former normally bothers me but not when it pertains to tolerance. The latter is a faux form of tolerance, but sometimes society can fake it until it makes it.
The problem is, not too many athletes want to be the ones to test this theory. And here we are with zero openly gay prominent athletes that I can think of.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this, and maybe I should write my own examination of this topic, buuuuuuut I won’t.
One thing the piece DID reveal is the thoughts my beloved Philadelphia Eagles players have about playing with a gay teammate, assuming that, unlike Nnamdi Asomugha, they’ve ever actually thought about it.
I TALKED TO SOME 20 EAGLES PLAYERS about having a gay teammate. And I got the feeling, going around that locker room after practice, that I’d entered a time warp: Having a gay teammate would be troublesome for many Eagles—especially sharing the shower—but it was more than that. For many players it was, in fact, a brand-new idea:
“Never thought about it. Never happened.”
“That would be different.”
“Wow. I don’t know, man.”
Only one player, fullback Owen Schmitt, was certain that he’d ever had a gay teammate—and that was in college. Though a few realized that, yeah, it probably was the case that they’d been tackled by and had sweated with and smacked the butt of and even got naked in the showers next to a teammate who was … gay.
EAGLES DEFENSIVE LINEMAN TRENT COLE gave a good long laugh when I asked if his team would accept an openly gay player, and another lineman, Darryl Tapp, said, after a long pause, that it would “take a lot of getting used to.” Yet another lineman, Juqua Parker, heard the question and said, “Oh no, I can’t do that, I can’t do that. I can’t talk about that.” Even new cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, advertised as a sophisticated guy, was silent for a long moment in considering whether he’d have a problem with a gay teammate, then said: “You know, I don’t know.”
But I also found a thoughtful, everybody’s-welcome attitude among many Eagles when I asked about gay teammates.
“A lot of guys who are open-minded would be fine with it,” guard Evan Mathis told me. “The way I hear guys talk sometimes, I think some guys might be a little affected by it. I’d be fine with it.”
I wondered what the hardest part for a gay player coming out would be—teammates, endorsements, the media?
“If you’re not meshing with all your teammates,” Mathis said, “that can be a big problem. Chemistry is a big part of professional sports, and the potential for somebody who doesn’t really understand it, who does have homophobic tendencies, that’s their fault—but it’s there. And probably why you don’t see anybody out.”
Many observers say the toughest teammates for a gay player to deal with would be born-again Christians, especially black born-agains, given that, generally speaking, neither evangelicals nor black culture is welcoming to gays.
Wide receiver Jason Avant, an African-American, is the most vocal born-again Christian on the Eagles, but he takes the high road on gays: “I don’t think anyone should shun them, even though my belief as a Christian doesn’t agree with the lifestyle. But I don’t agree with what a lot of people in this locker room do now. But they are my teammates, and you have to learn how to work out differences with anyone.”
Couple things…I raised my eyebrow at the writer making a distinction between gays not being accepted in religious culture as well as black culture. Attitudes about gays are shaped by religion across race. Black people don’t have a bug up their butts about homosexuality that derives from some issue that is special to being black. Ideas about what is acceptable in America–including black masculinity–are often based in religion. I haven’t given this enough though to dispute it entirely but again, it raised my eyebrow.
I loved Jason Avant’s comments! We work, live, love, tweet, and otherwise socialize with people whose lifestyles we don’t agree with. Or, more importantly, those who have facets to their lives we’re not aware of. It just so happens being gay is a lifestyle with public manifestations. If love and sexuality could be explored without other human beings, a person’s sexual orientation would be no less in the public sphere than their foot fetishes (unless you’re Rex Ryan of course!).
I am glad that the writer actually reached out to athletes rather than speculating, as I sorta did, about whether or not guys would embrace a gay player. When Jane McManus (ESPN) wrote a piece about whether the NFL can accept gay players, Scott Fujita expressed a desire to have more reporters ask those kinds of questions. He seemed to believe that answers might reveal a higher level of tolerance/support than we’d expect to see.
And that’s why I am glad that the Phillymag article was written–though again I thought it was poorly executed–but the more athletes hear other athletes express support for or disinterest in who their teammates’ are sleeping with, the less harrowing it will be when someone on a pro team finally decides to come out. Yes, there will be teasing (as Larry Fitzgerald mentions in the McManus piece) but we can definitely move past outright ostracizing.
Check my post from a few months ago about the anonymous chat a gay Division 1 player held on Reddit. He gave some good (and touching) answers about his situation.
Sidebar: All this reminds me of the episode of the game where the Center made a pass at the quarterback making the QB hesitant to take the field with him. The coach scolds both the QB and the Center for not wanting to be close and never are you more aware of what a physically intimate sport football is than when the coach explains in detail how he wants them to work together.