A big week for gay rights in Washington was a big one for the entertainment world, too, and it looks like the NFL could have its first gay player come out of the closet in time for Week One of the new season — not that everyone in the league likes the idea because, well, this is the NFL.
Earlier this week we delivered what seemed like good news, from the anonymous sources of Mike Freeman at CBS Sports: "I'm told that a current gay NFL player is strongly considering coming out publicly within the next few months -- and after doing so, the player would attempt to continue his career." But there was an important caveat in Freeman's report: "The player fears he will suffer serious harm from homophobic fans, and that is the only thing preventing him from coming out."
The fans are one thing, but turns out there are some homophobic potential teammates already out there, although some of the reactions from players since the report surfaced suggest that the NFL is — even after two months of all too typical macho comments and a pseudo-investigation by the league into perhaps discriminatory scouting practices — actually a comfortable place to be gay. Here's a rundown of the locker rooms where the NFL's mystery man might feel welcome — and less so:
The Bad: Seattle Seahawks
Why? Because Seahawks starting defensive end Chris Clemons, while recovering from knee surgery, took to Twitter this week to announce to his 18,000-plus followers that a teammate coming out of the closet would be "selfish" — even if he was a star player:
And there's more from the (since deleted) tweets. Clemons used the word "preference" to describe sexuality — considered an archaic term compared to "orientation" — but, really, he swears he's not the judging type:
Thanks for clearing that up, Chris.
The Still Pretty Bad: San Francisco 49ers
Why? Because, well, you'd think playing in one of the gayest cities in the country would have an effect on people's tolerance. Because you'd be wrong. At Supere Bowl Media Day in January, Niners cornerback Chris Culliver said in an interview that "I don't do the gay guys, man," and that gay players "can't be ... in the locker room." Culliver apologized a day later, stating:
The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.
Culliver was reprimanded, but that was just one part of the fallout. Two of Culliver's teammates, star linebacker Ahmad Brooks and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, were asked about their appearance in an "It Gets Better" PSA video message to LGBT teens — just to put Culliver's comments into perspective, and because the Niners had been the first NFL team to appear in the video series. Two of Culliver's roommates denied being in a gay rights video. "I didn't make any video," Brooks said. "This is America and if someone wants to be gay, they can be gay. It's their right. But I didn't make any video." Sounds like it's tough to watch game tape in San Francisco if you're gay.
The Newly Good: The New England Patriots
Why? Because Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski will be your pal. Playing for the team that everyone loves to hate is never easy. But "Gronk," the notoriously straight and outspoken superstar, wouldn't care if the NFL's mystery gay player was, in fact, gay — as long as he's helping the Pats win. "If he's being a great teammate and he's a guy on the field doing a great job, well then you've got nothing to complain about," Gronkowski told ESPN radio this week. "He's another teammate and another friend."
Quick, nobody tell Mike Florio, the NBC football analyst who floated the rumor that NFL execs wanted to know if Manti Te'o was gay — and who responded to the whispers of the mystery gay player by surmising "that the player may not currently have a team, or that the player believes he may not make it onto the final 53-man roster of the team for which he currently plays."
But Gronk is cool, no matter what. He added in the ESPN interview: "You've got to accept the player. Everyone has their own ways to live their life and as long as he's respecting me, keeping distance, respecting myself, I'll respect him back."
Why? Because Scott Fujita, the longtime badass Browns linebacker who's currently a free agent, is even more of a badass when it comes to gay stuff. He's been on the push for marriage equality since 2009, when he spoke out in an interview before some NFL players started speaking out all the time: "By and large in this country the issue of gay rights and equality should be past the point of debate. Really, there should be no debate anymore," Fujita said. And then last weekend he penned this awesome essay for The New York Times — Tony Morrison quote and all:
I hope that soon after Tuesday’s arguments in front of the Supreme Court, people like me won’t have to speak up for those sons or daughters. No one owns the definition of love. It comes in all shapes and sizes. As Toni Morrison wrote, “Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.” One thing I know for certain is that you can’t put a face on love, and you can’t tell me what a family is supposed to look like.
Somebody give this man a contract!
The Proven Good: Baltimore Ravens
Why? Because linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo (also pictured above) will go all the way to the Supreme Court. That's what the reigning Super Bowl champ did this past week (and has been doing for the past two years) to deliver a "pep talk" on the Court's steps. "I'm actually here as a patriot — as a patriot to uphold the Constitution of the United States," he told the masses gathered Tuesday, as the justices heard oral arguments on California's Proposition 8.
Ayanbadejo has been outspoken about his support for same-sex marriage — so much so that he got in a tiff with a Maryland lawmaker who said, basically, that he should shut up and do his job. Asked about the prospect of a gay player in a USA Today interview released on Monday, Ayanbadejo said "that it will happen soon, and we're definitely ready for it."
The Beyond Good: Minnesota Vikings
Why? Because punter Chris Kluwe has a way with words. He has been perhaps the most outspoken advocate for gay rights in the NFL, and has ripped into that Maryland lawmaker — as in, words like "lustful cockmonster." He signed an amicus brief to the Court in support of overturning Prop. 8, along with Fujita and Ayanbandejo, and then he went on Anderson Cooper's show Wednesday night and said that he was disappointed with the prevailing wisdom from the arguments — that the Court might overturn the Defense of Marriage Act but, uh, punt on Prop. 8:
I think it's kind of unfortunate that the Supreme Court is moving away from this idea that of making a sweeping statement here because they have the perfect chance to show that American citizens pay their taxes, who serve in our military and who are being discriminated against shouldn't no longer be discriminated against.
I've always been raised to treat other people I want to be treated ... That's what America is founded on—the freedom to live your own life.
CBS's Freeman also notes that the amicus brief filed to the court was also signed by, among others, the Philadelphia Eagles's Connor Barwin, Tampa Bay Buc Tom Crabtree, the Kansas City Chiefs's Eric Winston, Scott Shanle of the New Orleans Saints, and Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson.
See? If the Browns had just hung on to Fujita, they'd be the most open and encouraging and forward place for civil rights in the most macho of leagues? Unfortunately, for now, it seems like each team can only handle one truly outspoken gay rights advocate per roster. But one mystery player might change all of that.