The Big Problems with the NFL's Big Gay Player Rumor

Yesterday a rumor about four gay NFL athletes coming out of the closet together seemed to push the gay rights in sports debate to the precipice. Except that rumor was more than a little untrue, and now gay rights in sports advocates are more than a little mad. 

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A Friday rumor about four gay NFL athletes coming out of the closet at the same time seemed to push the gay-rights-in-sports debate to the precipice. Except that rumor was more than a little untrue, and now gay-rights-in-sports advocates are more than a little mad.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is both the rumor's source and its debunker. He told the Baltimore Sun on Friday that a cadre of NFL players were going to come out of the closet together:

We're in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they're trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.

This was a huge jump from the last rumor from Mike Freeman of CBS that one player was debating coming out. And an even bigger jump from the rumor before that from Mike Florio of NBC that NFL executives wanted to know if Manti Te'o was gay. A year's worth of NFL gay rights questions seemingly went up in smoke. Or, they would have. Ayanbadejo kept talking, and the more he said, the more it became apparent he was getting ahead of himself when the Sun's tape recorders were on. On CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Friday night, he told the news anchor the group wasn't really considering coming out together:

No, actually, what it is is, is there are organizations I'm in contact with, and there are individuals I'm in contact with and collectively we know of some gay players. And these players, some of them are anonymous, some of them we know who they are, but their identity is super secret and nobody wants to reveal who they are, and some of them don't want to reveal who they are, rightfully so because it's entirely up to them what they are going to do.

What we want to facilitate is getting them all together so they can lean on each other, so they can have a support group. And potentially it's possible, it's fathomable, that they could possibly do something together, break a story together.

Four NFL players are not debating coming out together. There might be four NFL players who are gay and still in the closet, and one player might be debating coming out, but Ayanbadejo thinks it would be a great idea for them to come out as a team. They are not talking about how they would come out together this morning around a kitchen table while eating brunch as he led us to believe earlier on Friday. Some people in the gay rights community are not pleased with this development.

The people running OutSports have been covering the gay athlete beat for years. They've had a good year, too. They just got purchased by SB Nation, providing them with a much larger audience and a network to support them. But they are fighting back against the media who may have gotten a little ahead of itself. Editor Cyd Zeigler's words on the subject:

First, stop believing all the headlines on this issue. I never believed there was any truth to this story, much like I don't believe there's any truth to what Mike Freeman wrote last month. Just wait for the headline that someone has come out; Anything else is just a guess.

Second, this kind of speculation doesn't help anyone. As Davis pointed out, it pushes athletes deeper into the closet and makes them more scared of every move they make. No one wins in this.

Patrick Burke is another gay rights in sports advocate who was not impressed with Ayanbadejo's performances on Friday. He started You Can Play, an advocacy group trying to work past the homophobia present in most locker rooms. He spoke out against the rumor:

Very disappointed in the fact that the NFL rumors were fabricated. Not the way to create change or inspire gay athletes. [Ayanbadejo] been a great, great ally. This is just disappointing to see. Hope its not a setback. Will continue YCP's policy of never commenting on any LGBT athletes we may be in touch with, for any reason.

So, for now, the NFL is back in the same position it was two days ago. The leaps the league made over night when it appeared four players were going to come out together went up in smoke. They would be the first pro athletes to come out and keep playing their sport, had it happened. Ayanbadejo is back where he started, too. He doesn't have an NFL team to play for anymore, but he'll continue his fight lobbying the Supreme Court to make a statement on gay rights.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.