The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Gay rights, America and the NFL: The impact of an openly gay player

Earlier this month, NFL free agent linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo announced that up to four active NFL players are on the verge of publicly coming out as homosexual. Ayanbadejo’s fight for marriage equality, as well as his work with Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, signal an exciting time in American sports. The NFL is on the verge of becoming the first American men’s team-sport league with openly gay players on active league rosters.

To be clear, there are openly gay retired male athletes in major American sports. Greg Louganis came out following his retirement from swimming and diving, as did former USA soccer stud Robbie Rogers and NBA center John Amaechi. It is endlessly important to respect the strength and courage that each of these individuals have shown in the past. However, it is crucial to recognize the monumental significance of an active gay male athlete in America, considering that much of the debate surrounding openly gay athletes centers around masculine locker room dynamics.

Perhaps the best known professional American athlete to identify as LGBTQ while still active in competition was the Czech-born tennis player Martina Navratilova, who came out in 1981 and promptly lost all of her advertising endorsements. It’s likely that the presence of proud and public homosexuals on American professional sports teams would show a previously unknown level of acceptance in the political and social arena of athletics.

It was not long ago that the idea of an openly identifying gay male athlete was unheard of. For years, sporting cultures from peewee to prep to professional athletics have included homophobic slurs that would likely not be tolerated in any other arena. Although there are still disheartening instances of this kind of hate, including San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver’s claim that he would exclude a gay teammate from being in the locker room, there is a climate in American sports now that is seemingly more progressive and open than ever before.

In the past five years, NBA superstars Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill have all publicly endorsed the presence of future gay NBA players in the league following Amaechi’s announcement that he was gay. A collective of NHL superstars, including reigning Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist actively participate in the recently founded “You Can Play” project, encouraging and supporting gay hockey players of all ages. Culliver has even shown encouraging signs of remorse by participating in public events with the Trevor Project, a Los Angeles based LGBTQ support firm, an act that goes beyond the commonplace disingenuous apologies that athletes are often required to give following public gaffes.

The inclusion of an openly gay NFL player would be a groundbreaking step in the historically significant fusion of social politics and pro sports. With this week’s release of 42, a biopic marking the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in major league baseball, I would be remiss to omit a reference to the socially transcendent role that sports have played in American politics. Although there are real differences between Robinson’s breaking of the baseball race barrier and the inclusion of gay athletes in professional sports, there is also resemblance in the two situations, as both are marked by the courage of the individuals involved and the social influence that each event holds. Even though de jure racial segregation remained in American institutions for several more years following Robinson’s first game, his role in deconstructing the Jim Crow South is unmistakable.

Any conscientious advocate for LGBTQ rights will notice the parallels between the soon to be openly gay NFL players and Robinson’s heroism. We can only hope that contemporary social policy makers will notice as well.

View Comments (2)
More to Discover

Comments (2)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • B

    Boris PiperSep 10, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with useful information to paintings on. You’ve performed a formidable process and our whole group will probably be grateful to you.

  • D

    Dylan MacDonaldSep 4, 2019 at 10:02 pm

    Excellent post! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our site. Keep up the good writing.