At a time when many assume that the locker room gladly will welcome only gay players, one NFL veteran has admitted that, in his younger days, he would not have been willing to embrace the concept of a gay teammate.
Redskins receiver Donte’ Stallworth recently told ESPN’s Outside the Lines (via Sarah Kogod of the Washington Post) that he was aggressively homophobic earlier in his career.
“I’m ashamed to tell it, but when I was younger I was leaving the club,” Stallworth said. “I was maybe 24 years old. I was leaving the club and there was a gay club letting out. And I walked out of there yelling gay slurs for no reason.”
Age and experience prompted Stallworth to change his “very homophobic” ways.
“I’ve experienced hate because of me for a number of reasons,” Stallworth said. “For the color of my skin, or having money. For my accident with my DUI and manslaughter four or five years ago. When I started to look back on that, and the hate that I got from all those people and I looked at it, like, you know what? That’s the same thing I’m doing towards gays. So I can’t be upset with these people if I’m being a bigot and acting that same way.”
It’s refreshing candor, especially since many athletes who address this topic may not necessarily be speaking the truth but simply saying what they think the interviewer and the audience want to hear. But it’s also troubling, because it suggests there are plenty of younger players without the benefit of Stallworth’s life experiences who may feel the same way he used to feel.
As the issue receives more attention and scrutiny, homophobic players will be less likely to ever act on those feelings. But it would be naive to assume that every NFL player will accept a gay teammate, both in what the players say and do and in what they truly think and feel.