I guess the realistic headline should not read ‘When Will NFL Follow’ but instead read as ‘Will NFL Ever Follow.’ On Thursday, the NHL announced that the organization as a whole (including the NHLPA) is in support for gay rights and is beginning a joint coalition against homophobia with You Can Play Project. YCPP is an organization that promotes equality in sports including getting professional sports to be in support of gay rights.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had this to say about the joint effort:
Our motto is Hockey Is for Everyone, and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way. We are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.
This is a huge step for the NHL as well as a huge step for the LGBT community at large with regards to finding more solid footing in the sports arena. Long has homosexuality and sports been seen as complete opposites of the spectrum due to the stereotypical rhetoric that has been in place for decades. Through the lens of the male athlete, toughness, strength, and will could never exist in someone who was a homosexual. Through the lens of the female athlete, having these qualities meant that you must be a lesbian. This culture created within sports left no room for grey, and it forced many professional, semi-professional, and school aged homosexual athletes to hide behind the veil of straightness. Rarely do athletes reveal their sexual orientation until after they retire – when there are no direct consequences for being open. In fact, no gay NFL athlete has ever come out while being on an active roster.
So will the NFL ever step up and do something similar to the NHL? And that is the real question – ‘will’? In the natural evolution of society and culture, more and more people, groups, and organizations will accept homosexuality. But, will the NFL ever form its own alliance with equal rights groups to help shift its own absurdly masculine saturated culture? It’s obvious that homosexual athletes participated in the NFL based on the few that have come out since retiring from the game. Who’s to say that there aren’t any currently on a roster? There is speculation out there right now that a current gay player (and even up to four) just might come out while playing for an NFL club. Is there anyone brave enough to do so when the NFL could just as easily turn its back on an idea that stereotypically is the antithesis of what the NFL stands for? Let’s face it, the NFL is the most homophobic arena on the planet.
Current players, owners, and retirees are working diligently to form their own group to act as a support group if and when the day comes that the world knows of an openly gay American football player. Chis Kluwe has been the loudest advocate of late, and other players are joining the ranks. It was announced on Wednesday that former Patriots wide receiver Donte Stallworth joined Athlete Ally, another advocacy group fighting homophobia in sports. He believes that the culture shift is beginning and that it is important to help these current gay NFL athletes feel comfortable in coming out. And that feeling of being comfortable is important. There is still a social stigma out there that if a gay football player comes out it will ruin his relationship with the team. The locker room will no longer become a comfortable place, a brotherhood will be broken, or any other lame excuse as to why the silence should continue. I believe that the trend within the NFL of players expressing their support of their fellow homosexual athletes will continue.
If Roger Goodell wants to help change his own public perception, he can do so by leading the league the way Gary Bettman did for the NHL. If player safety is such an important issue within the NFL and championed so highly by the Commish, shouldn’t this be part of that conversation? Aren’t players who feel threatened, either physically or the potential of losing their job, due to their sexual orientation at a safety risk?
Or, will the NFL feel like they are destroying their own image and brand of being the penultimate gladiatorial mucho macho sport by showing a bit of human compassion towards its fellow man? Will the NFL ever openly support gay rights?