More than six years ago, our friend Mike Freeman told in his book Bloody Sundays the story of Steven Thompson, a then-active NFL player who also happened to be gay — and who had a relationship with at least one other player.
Thompson was an assumed name, like Martin Van Nostrand. In 2003, no gay NFL player could come out of the closet during his career. In 2010, no progress has been made to change that reality.
In an interview with Dave Hollander of HuffingtonPost.com, ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley, a former NFL Pro Bowler, suggests that it will be a long time before an active player can admit to being gay.
“It would really be tough for a gay guy in the NFL, for the
locker room to understand him as a homosexual — I’m not saying it’s
impossible to pull off, but I’m saying right now the fear of coming out
of the closet and more so coming out in the locker room would really be
too tremendous to overcome,” Wiley said. “It’s unfortunate because it shouldn’t be
that way. I understand that the locker room is pretty intimate. I do
understand that there are 53 guys walking around nude at times and I do
understand how guys may feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think that it
should impair someone’s decision to live their life, have their freedoms
and express themselves. I don’t know whether that will be five, ten or
twenty years from now but right now the NFL culture has no tolerance
Wiley also said that when he played with former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo, who came out of the closet after his career ended, other players wondered whether Tuaolo was gay.
“Quiet as it was kept, it was suspected when we were teammates in
Buffalo,” Wiley said, “but never to the point where there was any hatred for him as a
person — more a joke, more a comedy that people used to say stuff to
him. I never thought twice about it until he retired and came out. Then I
was like ‘Wow, they used to kind of make mention of that in the locker
Maybe, someday, a gay player will be able to acknowledge his sexuality and not live in fear of it being detected. Until then, the gap between the NFL locker room and the rest of society will continue to grow. Eventually, the dichotomy between the football world and the real world will become sufficiently broad to create a major embarrassment for the game.
Some would argue that point already has arrived.