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The first gay player to come out will need much more than Michael Irvin’s support

2010 Pro Bowl Getty Images

We admire Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin for proclaiming that he’ll support any gay NFL player who comes out of the closet during his career.  And it’s important for more and more people in positions of influence to express similar views, given that gay players certainly have played and are playing every type of professional sport, striving to keep that secret for fear of being bullied, berated, and ultimately rejected.

Ultimately, the issue hinges on the NFL’s ability to ensure that gay players will encounter no hostility in the workplace.

In many respects, football teams have been immune to the societal advances of the last 50 years.  Other than racial equality (which still may not completely exist), misogyny and homophobia are alive and well, making it impossible for any player to come out of the closet while still in the locker room.

Tolerance needs to come from the top of the organization, along with a commitment at each level of management to insisting on an attitude and atmosphere of respect.  Currently, that’s simply too much to expect.  Teams won’t cut Pro Bowlers who don’t want homosexual players in the locker room, period.

The alternative would be to ensure acceptance from the bottom up, with the players banding together to apply pressure to anyone who may resist the presence of a gay player.  But even though Irvin now says that the Cowboys of the 1990s would have supported a gay player, we find it hard to believe that the man who stuck a pair of scissors in the neck of Everett McIver would have been leading the charge for inclusion and diversity.

Surely at some point in the 1990s a gay player played for the Cowboys.  If he believed that he would have been fully supported and accepted by the organization, he would have decided to stop living a dual life.

Then there’s the question of harassment from fans, a group of folks that no front office can fully contain or control.  Though a gay player surely wouldn’t be booed when introduced to the crowd, he’ll hear from pockets of the assembled public hurtful words that he otherwise wouldn’t hear if he remains in the closet.

In the end, perhaps the only way to ever get to the point where sexual orientation is a non-issue in pro sports is for a player to declare his homosexuality during his career, not after it ends.  History would possibly regard that player as the new Jackie Robinson, and that status would be earned via the various indignities to which the player would surely be subjected, at least in the short term.

It’s by no means cowardly for a gay player to decline to accept that risk.  It will take a special kind of courage to do it.  At some point, it’ll happen.  And if enough voices immediately express support for the player who becomes the first one to decide to quit living in fear, it may not be long before an “I am Spartacus”-style string of players decide that the burden of secrecy far outweighs the price of the truth.

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63 Responses to “The first gay player to come out will need much more than Michael Irvin’s support”
  1. a2056 says: Jul 12, 2011 3:38 PM

    They should really force every team to interview a gay head coach when finding a new coach.

  2. hurls187 says: Jul 12, 2011 3:50 PM

    “we find it hard to believe that the man who stuck a pair of scissors in the neck of Everett McIver would have been leading the charge for inclusion and diversity.”

    ——————————————
    what’s the point of this? of course the action isn’t ok, but how does this point to him not leading the charge for inclusion and diversity? maybe Mike actually stabbed him for using a gay slur??? this just seems unnecessary and irrelevant, especially in the context it is used here. stay classy, West Virginia.

  3. realfootballfan says: Jul 12, 2011 3:51 PM

    Didn’t Skip Bayless proclaim with no denials from the Cowboy organization that Troy Aikman was openly gay in that locker room? I know Bayless is a clown, but no one ever disputed the notion.

  4. phinfan says: Jul 12, 2011 3:52 PM

    Um… Kordell Stewart?!

  5. marcus158 says: Jul 12, 2011 3:53 PM

    I’m taking bets on the first gay player being Tom Brady.

  6. yzguy431 says: Jul 12, 2011 4:00 PM

    won’t be long before it’s touch football, and group hugs at the end of the game.

  7. bigdan7885 says: Jul 12, 2011 4:00 PM

    Giggity

  8. lancastereagle says: Jul 12, 2011 4:01 PM

    I think gay players should have their own locker room. Think about it…why are women and men separated in terms of locker rooms? Its because women don’t want to be leered at by men who are sexually attracted to them. Well, if a gay man is in a men’s locker room, he’s sexually attracted to men, and well, that’s a problem. There’s no way in the world I’d share a locker room with a gay guy. Don’t ask, don’t tell works fine. Leave it alone.

  9. trbowman says: Jul 12, 2011 4:16 PM

    “Other than racial equality (which still may not completely exist)”

    That’s where I stopped reading.

  10. giantrutgersfan says: Jul 12, 2011 4:20 PM

    Do I really have to hear about the gays on a football website.

    They should have sex with whoever they want, but quite frankly, I am sick of hearing about it.

  11. flyboy123456 says: Jul 12, 2011 4:20 PM

    I’m sure Jesse Jackson will be right there to offer moral support now that he’s been recently outed.

  12. techstar25 says: Jul 12, 2011 4:27 PM

    In other news, the WNBA is waiting for a player to openly admit she is straight.

  13. ivekilledpeople says: Jul 12, 2011 4:29 PM

    Good news for Mark Sanchez!

  14. RayLewisIsGod says: Jul 12, 2011 4:30 PM

    Who cares.

  15. Exiled1 says: Jul 12, 2011 4:31 PM

    @ marcus158

    I’m not exactly a Brady fan at all,but last time I checked that dude impregnates super-models.

  16. irishgary says: Jul 12, 2011 4:44 PM

    Irvin sucks……..Oh now it makes sense.

  17. melonnhead says: Jul 12, 2011 4:53 PM

    Didn’t Skip Bayless proclaim with no denials from the Cowboy organization that Troy Aikman was openly gay in that locker room? I know Bayless is a clown, but no one ever disputed the notion.

    —————————————————————–

    Bayless never said that Aikman was openly gay in the locker room. Bayless said that Aikman was gay, period. Aikman did respond… saying that he’d like to punch Bayless in the mouth but wouldn’t. Bayless also claimed that Aikman threw games against the Redskins because his old friend Norv Turner was the head coach. And he said that Aikman was a racist and that the black players didn’t like him.

  18. britishraven says: Jul 12, 2011 4:55 PM

    Already happened over here in Rugby and Cricket – only issues were created by the media to be honest.

    Although I agree that football (soccer) and American Football are totally different beasts when it comes to fan acceptance

  19. Deb says: Jul 12, 2011 5:03 PM

    You said misogyny is alive and well in the locker room. True … but what does that have to do with the article? You’re not advocating for female players, are you? A qualified woman in the White House, yes. But not in the NFL. No.

  20. hobartbaker says: Jul 12, 2011 5:05 PM

    I really think you’re making too big a deal of it. Most of the players could care less. Half of them are getting their hair styled three times a week and buying high end fashion clothing by the truck load, so it’s not like they don’t encounter gay men.

  21. oldassgoat1 says: Jul 12, 2011 5:10 PM

    This is good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  22. txhc says: Jul 12, 2011 5:16 PM

    $20 says Troy Polamalu is gay.

  23. Deb says: Jul 12, 2011 5:54 PM

    @txhc …

    Because of the hair? I suppose you think Ted Nugent is gay, too. :roll:

    Troy’s not, by the way. Married with two kids. Guess you’ll have to take your gaydar in for repairs. Better tell them to delete the goofy stereotypes.

  24. JSpicoli says: Jul 12, 2011 6:04 PM

    a2056 says:
    Jul 12, 2011 3:38 PM
    They should really force every team to interview a gay head coach when finding a new coach.

    ___________________________________

    ^^^^needs more love

  25. JSpicoli says: Jul 12, 2011 6:06 PM

    Rock Hudson was married.

  26. melonnhead says: Jul 12, 2011 6:13 PM

    Because of the hair? I suppose you think Ted Nugent is gay, too.

    Troy’s not, by the way. Married with two kids. Guess you’ll have to take your gaydar in for repairs. Better tell them to delete the goofy stereotypes.

    ——————————————————

    So you’re saying he’s bi? Just kidding. But to be fair, Nuge has long, straight, stringy rocker-type hair. Polamalu has luscious curly locks of shiny, well-conditioned hair that would make most chicks jealous. Not a diss against him, but he would have fit right into one of those androgynous glam-rock hair bands of the 80’s.

  27. nagaswan says: Jul 12, 2011 6:15 PM

    No gays, just rapists

  28. gimmeabruschi says: Jul 12, 2011 6:19 PM

    Could Michael be floating a test balloon here?

  29. ditkadontbutkus says: Jul 12, 2011 6:21 PM

    Would it be ironic if the first openly-gay player was a Tight End? O_o

  30. y2kevin11 says: Jul 12, 2011 6:23 PM

    Bayless never said that Aikman was openly gay in the locker room. Bayless said that Aikman was gay, period. Aikman did respond… saying that he’d like to punch Bayless in the mouth but wouldn’t. Bayless also claimed that Aikman threw games against the Redskins because his old friend Norv Turner was the head coach. And he said that Aikman was a racist and that the black players didn’t like him.
    _____________________________________

    Boy, sounds like Aikman was a douche. lol

  31. dewalt2990 says: Jul 12, 2011 6:35 PM

    They’re all gay for pigskin anyway..

  32. rayguyreturns says: Jul 12, 2011 6:38 PM

    Slow NFL news day?

    Just end the lockout so that there can be real football news.

    This place is starting to sound like “The View”.

  33. packattack1967 says: Jul 12, 2011 6:41 PM

    “Ultimately, the issue hinges on the NFL’s ability to ensure that gay players will encounter no hostility in the workplace.”

    Brilliant Mike, said just like a liberal (you know I love you but we disagree here)

    Learn please that the NFL, The Federal Government, Michelle Obama, Kathleen Sibilius nor any other person or entity cannot dictate peoples behavior. This sort of stigma, unfortunately, will just have to run its course in professional sports and other places. We’ll see it commonplace in our lifetime…I think.

  34. broncotis3000 says: Jul 12, 2011 6:54 PM

    1.Troy Polamalu is not gay..(His long hair is his heritage) 2.Ted Nugent is a redneck conservative…(it wouldnt surprise me if he was gay…) 3.There already gay players in the NFL..(if they decide to come out lets hope there is a locker room(season) for someone to come out in.

  35. tfbuckfutter says: Jul 12, 2011 6:59 PM

    packattack1967 says: Jul 12, 2011 6:41 PM

    Learn please that the NFL, The Federal Government, Michelle Obama, Kathleen Sibilius nor any other person or entity cannot dictate peoples behavior.

    ———————————-

    Been to many lynchings lately, packattack?

    Are you writing your posts from a Whites-Only internet cafe?

  36. liontomyself says: Jul 12, 2011 7:00 PM

    As for in the locker room, it should be don’t ask, don’t tell (just like the military which should NEVER allow (openly gay) gays).

    Nothing against gays, who they are attracted to is none of my, or anyone elses, business.

    But society is not ready for it. Even if accepted by the team, a higher popular player could lose (potential) endorsements if a company fears a loss of revenue from masses in society who don’t acept gays.

    But, I don’t think it would even be accepted in the lockeroom unless, as lancastereagle stated, they had seperate showers. I am sure a straight guy would be just as offended by a gay “gazing” as a man or woman would in a co-op locker room.

    @Deb,

    There are lot’s of gay men and women who are or have been married to the opposite sex and / or have kids.

  37. tfbuckfutter says: Jul 12, 2011 7:04 PM

    BTW, I’m not calling you racist because of your statement (although your attack on “liberals” means you probably are on, but I digress)….

    Just pointing out the flaw in your theory.

  38. hooks024 says: Jul 12, 2011 7:13 PM

    Are you implying troy aikman was gay? I mean, him and joe buck gaze longingly into each others’ eyes during fox broadcasts, but I always thought they were just really good friends.

  39. broncotis3000 says: Jul 12, 2011 7:55 PM

    What is the big deal about lockerroom showers??? You go in,you shower and you leave..Geez…its not a gay bathouse or prison!!!

  40. kevinfromphilly says: Jul 12, 2011 7:57 PM

    When I was a kid, I heard that Ted Nugent was banging Patty Smith – which is probably worse than banging a dude.

  41. Deb says: Jul 12, 2011 8:07 PM

    @melonnhead …

    Yeah, from interviews with Troy and other Pacific Islander players, I gather pride in the locks is a cultural thing for some. But his locks are too frizzy for my tastes. And Clay’s are too stringy, Tom looks too Bieber. Can’t think offhand of an NFL guy who rocks the long locks, though both Troy and Clay work the ponytails well :)

    Okay … why am I getting thumbs down on not wanting women to play in the NFL?? Seriously?

  42. 10of14 says: Jul 12, 2011 8:45 PM

    Honestly and seriously, I had Irvin himself on the “may be gay” list and this may be his first step in the scary, long admission as such. As for those stating that someone can NOT be gay because they are married and have kids…get with the times. Many of my now openly gay friends hid behind marriage and families first; so being “in a marriage” is no guarantee, especially macho athletes, that they live a purely straight life. With that said, it just doesn’t matter either way. Play the friggin game already!

  43. theawkwardyears says: Jul 12, 2011 8:45 PM

    Everyone knows Troy Aikman made both passes at and to Irvin.

    What about Brett Keisel’s “Beard” think about it…

    Hines Ward? You can’t be straight and dance like that.

  44. commandercornpone says: Jul 12, 2011 8:57 PM

    irvin should just admit, it’s him.

  45. burntorangehorn says: Jul 12, 2011 8:58 PM

    Where’s Branch Rickey when you need him?

  46. tfbuckfutter says: Jul 12, 2011 9:50 PM

    “commandercornpone says: Jul 12, 2011 8:57 PM
    irvin should just admit, it’s him.”

    ————————————-

    He said in an interview with Out magazine that his brother was gay which caused him to question his sexuality….so he became a “womanizer” to reinforce is heterosexuality to himself.

  47. 1bigtex says: Jul 12, 2011 9:50 PM

    As to Skip Bayless, just a few of his proclamations; the Cowboys should draft Tony Mandarich, the Cowboys should start Steve Walsh, the Cowboys should start Steve Buerlien, my personal favorite, Larry Bird will never make it in the NBA.

    Skip Bayless, one of the biggest douches the media has ever produced.

  48. MichaelEdits says: Jul 12, 2011 9:57 PM

    That gay player would have my support too, but I doubt it’d be very useful.

  49. RussianBreadMaker says: Jul 12, 2011 10:27 PM

    I’ve got 20 bucks that Ray Lewis comes out first.

  50. dixonorifice says: Jul 12, 2011 11:42 PM

    Irvin will give him his support and a reach around.

  51. Canyonero says: Jul 12, 2011 11:43 PM

    Yeah, I remember when Jackie Robinson came out and admitted he was a black man. That was a big deal.

  52. timegambit says: Jul 13, 2011 12:10 AM

    I thought Esera Tuaolo already came out.

    And nothing against gays, but if they can stand in their locker room with men than I can stand in any female locker room I want. Same principle.

  53. ishallcomment says: Jul 13, 2011 1:15 AM

    #1 suspect

    Jeff Garcia.

    overcompensation, thy name is Carmella DeCesare, the 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year.

  54. pmars64 says: Jul 13, 2011 1:50 AM

    The Aikman rumors have been around a long time. Don’t know when Bayless said what he said, but there were rumors about Troy when was at UCLA.

    In the end, who cares? I’m sure we’d all be shocked to find out how many star athletes, movie starts, politicians (Michele Bachmann anyone?), etc., were or are in the closet. There have been many studies that consistently point to about 10% of the population is gay so it stands to reason that, of the 1800 or so NFL players, 180 are gay.

    Again, so what? If these guys help win me a SB, I don’t care one iota.

  55. piemasteruk says: Jul 13, 2011 2:09 AM

    If you’re waiting for a big star to come out as gay, I wouldn’t hold your breath. I’m guessing that the first openly gay NFL player will be in one of the following circumstances:

    1. They have been openly gay through college and so they are already ‘out’ by the time they get to the NFL.

    2. A fringe player using it as a gambit to maybe prolong their career by a season as their team might not want the negative publicity of cutting a player just after he comes out.

    The sooner one of the above happens the better to be honest. Right now the fact that there is no openly gay player in the NFL is seen as a big deal and a bit of a monkey on their back. Once one comes out and time elapses and people realise he isn’t going to start feeling up his teammates in the showers and is basically just a normal guy, the league and probably society will be better for it.

  56. etabaka says: Jul 13, 2011 4:40 AM

    @liontomyself

    Just because you are not ready for it doesn’t mean society isn’t. Just stick your head back in the sand and leave the thinking to people who know how.

  57. steelnucs says: Jul 13, 2011 6:13 AM

    “Other than racial equality (which still may not completely exist)”

    How do you figure? About 2/3 of the players are black and 6 head coaches are black – 18%. According to the last census, blacks make up between 12-13% of the US population. Blacks seem to be pretty fairly represented in the NFL to me.

    I guess you may be right, at least where the players are concerned, you just got the colors backwards.

    Right.

  58. watters7 says: Jul 13, 2011 6:59 AM

    I don’t think Ben Roethlisbergeris gay because he rapes chicks.

  59. maddenboy says: Jul 13, 2011 7:20 AM

    Surely at some point in the 1990s a gay player played for the Cowboys.

    ——————

    I really thought that Aikman was waiting for his HOF induction to announce that he’s gay.

    I think gay men really dont understand how obvious their gayness is to non-gay men. Just because you didnt admit it, we still can tell. There’s a reason why so many people think Aikman is gay. And a HOF qb would be a perfect person to “come out.”

    I understand that Irvin is looking for a current player. But maybe he’s trying to nudge Aikman a little.

  60. packattack1967 says: Jul 13, 2011 8:16 AM

    tfbuckfutter says: Jul 12, 2011 7:04 PM

    BTW, I’m not calling you racist because of your statement (although your attack on “liberals” means you probably are on, but I digress)….

    Just pointing out the flaw in your theory.

    You know arbitrarily calling someone a racist is really worse then racism itself. Murder has been illegal in this country since its founding(lynching) So did the civil rights act end racism? (i guess not because you think I am one) You guys are walking contradictions.

  61. Deb says: Jul 13, 2011 10:42 AM

    maddenboy says:

    I think gay men really dont understand how obvious their gayness is to non-gay men. Just because you didnt admit it, we still can tell.
    ————————————————

    ROFL … a study was just released showing that straight men are the worst at being able to tell whether another man is gay. You guys just think you have great gaydar because you label as gay anyone who fits your juvenile stereotypes … and any man you find threatening to your own egos. Then you proclaim yourselves right regardless whether or not there’s any evidence to support you. Sorry but the majority’s opinions about someone’s sexuality don’t count as reality regarding Aikman or anyone else. My opinion is that those who spend so much time thinking about other people’s sex lives have their own issues.

  62. stavreafavre says: Jul 13, 2011 4:00 PM

    @lancatereagle –
    Don’t want to freak you out brother, but if you’ve ever been in a locker room that had more than a dozen guys in it, then most likely you’ve already shared a locker room with a gay guy.

  63. 1historian says: Jul 14, 2011 12:41 PM

    I remember one summer when I lived in Kentucky and I was (much) younger than I am today. I had lost the house I was renting and was planning on moving back east in a few months but I needed a place to live for a few months. A guy I know who was flagrantly gay offered me a room for those few months and while we were talking he said “you know I’m gay” and I said yes and I said “you know I’m not” and he agreed to that.

    He was a school administrator or some such job which meant he had the summer off and all his fruity pals used to come over to visit and I was working outside in the Kentucky sun 40 hours a week tending bricklayers and wearing nothing more than cutoffs and work shoes all day and I would come home all sweaty and dark and tanned and smelly and stuff and when I walked in that house I drove those guys nuts. I could feel their eyes on me and they knew what would happen if they tried anything and I must admit that I did enjoy that.

    So endeth the tale of ‘My summer as a pr..k-teaser!”

    (I usually have to have a few brews before I tell that story)

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