No perfect time
Society's not waiting for NFL to be fully prepared for an out player
The 2013 NFL draft is a week away, and leading up to this unofficial holiday is one pressing question: When will a gay player come out while still playing?
Wait what's that you say? That's not the pressing question of the moment? Well, you could've fooled me because, ever since Colorado's Nick Kasa told ESPN Radio teams asked him whether he liked girls during the combine back in February, some people have turned this offseason into a crazed quest for a gay guy in the locker room.
The fuss started when CBS Sports' Mike Freeman reported that someone is considering coming out soon. Super Bowl champion Brendon Ayanbadejo then told The Baltimore Sun and MSNBC's Thomas Roberts that four men could come out all at once on the same day.
And before anyone jumped to any conclusions, free agent Kerry Rhodes took the time to tell TMZ that despite recent pictures of him hugged up with another man: "I am not gay."
All of which is to say -- who cares?
Not "who cares" as in an NFL player coming out while still playing isn't a story. The "first" is always a story. But at this point, who is really going to be shocked/surprised by this revelation?
On the cover of Sports Illustrated is a photo of three Boston police officers rushing in to help victims of the bombing at the marathon. The officer on the far right is Javier Pagan, who has been married for four years to his husband, Pedro, a retired sergeant from the New York Police Department and a 9/11 first respondent.
And there are people wondering whether there are gay football players?
Of course there are.
And one day one or more of them will come out. Yes, the first guy to say it will be surrounded by reporters whether he's a star or scrub. Yes, his teammates will be asked about him, whether he plays or not. Yes, it will be a lot like the frenzy surrounding Tim Tebow last season. The NFL survived that; the NFL will survive this.
Some will call the gay player a hero.
Some will call him a f-----.
And then a new storyline will grab our attention and life will go on.
I don't know when this will be, but I do know who it will be.
It will be the right person.
For if you look back at history, particularly in the world of sports, the days of significant firsts are marked by it being not the right time but the right people.
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April 15, 1947, was not the right time to integrate baseball but Jackie Robinson was the right person.
March 19, 1966, was not the right time to start five black players in an NCAA basketball championship game but Don Haskins was the right person.
January 21, 1975, was not the right time for a female reporter to gain access to the locker room but Robin Herman and Marcel St. Cyr were the right people.
If Rosa Parks had waited for the right time, black folks might still be riding in the back of the bus. If Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott had waited for the right time, women might still be waiting for their right to vote.
Robinson, Haskins, Parks: None of them was embraced by the right moment. They embraced their moment. And, in his own time, a gay man in an NFL locker room will embrace his.
That won't mean the struggle to end homophobia in sports will be over. Robinson didn't end racism, and Herman didn't end sexism. It doesn't mean the player who comes out will be a noble soul who will be loved until the end of time. The guy could be a jerk who happens to run fast, for all we know.
But at least we'll demystify the obvious.
Not that change is waiting for him.
Earlier this month, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the story of Derrick Anderson, a sophomore hurdler at Ohio State University, who is out to his teammates and coaches and no one cares.
He's in the locker room.
"I think there would be more media involved and you'd have to deal with that in your face," Anderson told the paper when asked about a basketball or football player coming out at Ohio State. "I feel the people on campus would be supportive. So for the first two weeks it would be this big ordeal, but after the two weeks is up, just go live your life and produce on the field."
And Anderson is not an anomaly.
As documented in the Fearless Project by Jeff Sheng, there are hundreds of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes in high school and college across all sports, including the big four. The NBA has worked closely with the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network for years. Athlete Ally, a group dedicated to ending homophobia in sports, is working with the NFL. This month, the NHL and NHLPA announced they are partnering up with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports, to make sure hockey is welcoming to all. (I work with the latter three groups in some capacity.)
"As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate," said Ron Hainsey, a Winnipeg Jets defenseman.
I was in Washington, D.C., last month as 83-year-old Edith Windsor was inside the Supreme Court, fighting for her right to marry the person she loved. She didn't start her journey because the time was right. She started it because her partner of more than 40 years died in 2009 and, while she was dealing with her grief, the federal government tried to slap her with a $360,000 inheritance tax bill because her marriage isn't recognized.
Every day, there are brave men and women who are deployed all over the world -- including in Afghanistan -- fighting to protect this country. Professional athletes sometimes refer to their games as "war" and refer to themselves as "soldiers." Well, these military folks fight in real wars. These folks are real soldiers. And some of these folks are openly gay. They stay in the barracks and shower next to fellow soldiers who are not.
And the slate of reasons spouted against having an openly gay player in the locker room is similar to the arguments we heard in 2010 against overturning "don't ask, don't tell."
Gay soldiers would be a distraction.
They would divide the unit.
The time was not right.
Years later, reports have found nothing of the sort and our military remains the strongest in the world. Why? Because a person's sexuality has no bearing on a person's talent, courage or heart.
I love football but it is not war.
So if our soldiers -- gay and straight -- are able to work side by side, there is no reason professional athletes can't. If military commanders can work with gay subordinates when it's a matter of life and death, how can coaches or GMs say they can't work with openly gay players when it's a matter of wins and losses?
If a police officer who happens to be gay can run toward real danger in Boston, I think a football player who happens to be gay can run toward a freaking end zone in Foxborough.
And no, I'm not suggesting the New England Patriots have a gay player.
I'm suggesting that if a team learned an openly gay player had scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, no franchise would send the trophy back.