Coming Out And The NFL

Brendon Ayanbedejo made headlines last week for announcing that four current NFL players are considering coming out as gay. He said that the players are trying to coordinate a day to do it together so that the attention of being the first active player to come out as gay does not solely rest on one individual. While my esteemed Professor Howard Schlossberg seems to doubt the validity of Ayanbedjo’s claim, I believe that  the time is right if indeed a current player chose to come out as gay.

Twenty years ago, more likely even 5 years ago, the idea of an NFL player coming out would have been unthinkable. But in the world we live in today, I believe that an act like this would be generally praised by the public. Most of the public consensus in America seems to be in support of gay rights. This is evident by the large number of states working towards recognizing and allowing gay marriages. America likes to believe that it is the leader in the forefront of equality for all. It is the quest that the founders of America sought when they all signed the Constitution. (I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention most of the men who signed the Constitution owned slaves and that we still had separate bathrooms for whites and African Americans into the 1960’s) Public sentiment seems to be in favor of a professional athlete coming out as gay. I can imagine that the large part of liberal America would be doing everything they could to support them.

The situation reminds me, right or wrong, of Jackie Robinson. At the time of Robinson’s Major League debut, many thought that an African-American player playing baseball with his white counter parts was wrong. Robinson dealt with difficulties on and off the field and even in his own clubhouse. While we would like to believe that our society has evolved, would this situation be dissimilar? I’m sure that any player who would chose to come out would face similar adversity, but in this day and age, one would have to believe that the opposition would be in the minority. Thirty years from now, will we look back on a moment such as a current NFL player coming out the way that we now view Robinson breaking the color barrier? It’s hard to tell, but a player still needs to make that announcement.

Another argument to support Ayanbadejo’s claim is the financial one. While it may seem crass to suggest that financial motivation would figure into a very personal matter, the truth is that it may. Any NFL player willing to announce they are gay would be in line for large sponsorship deals. Companies would be lining up to support anyone who would be willing to become the face of the gay athlete in America. Subway passes out sponsorships to athletes like it’s free money. They still have Apallo Anton Ohno in commercials. It seems that the only thing people remember him for these days is his multiple stints on ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ Can you imagine what they could do with the first major four-sports openly gay athlete? The suggestion of financial motivation is probably insensitive and maybe even offensive to those in the gay community, but money talks; especially in a sport with non-guaranteed contracts. It may even provide some job security. The backlash for cutting a player who was openly gay would likely be stiff. A front office could quote any company line they wanted if they decided to cut a gay player. The reasons could even be true, it could be contract or performance related, but people would believe it was related to his sexual orientation. Would you like to be the general manager of a team that cut the first openly gay player. Can you say PR nightmare?

My intention here is not to offend anyone, but instead to offer up an argument as to why an NFL player coming out as gay may be closer than we realize. Brendon Ayanbadejo’s claim may pass as quickly as it came. We may never see an openly gay athlete in a sport considered to be the manliest American sport. The truth is that until that moment, no one truly knows how close we are .

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