I don’t typically post non-Ravens information, It is even less frequent that I post non-NFL information, but I feel this bears talking about. Jason Collins, an NBA Center, Has become the first openly gay athlete in major American Sports(male sports anyway, Brittney Griner decently discussed her lesbianism and several other female athletes have been more open as well).
First off, I want to applaud Collins for his courage. As someone who has been in professional locker-rooms and part of teams, i understand that the risk of him alienating himself to a team-mate is very high and is a major risk. Sports is a very subjective business and when you are a middle tier athlete(which is being kind to Collins production over his 12 year career), it would be very easy for GMs to write you off as a potential distraction and he might never end up with another contract again. There has been a lot of talk about why more gay athletes aren’t open about their sexuality, and I feel that very reason could be at the root of much of it. All it takes is one close minded team-mate who happens to be a stud player, and then you put your GM in a situation where he might have to decide between the two players or risk creating a fracture in the locker-room. Generally the GM is going to side with the better player regardless of that players sexual preference.
That is what makes Collins announcement impressive. Sure you can argue that Collins is more or less at the end of his career anyway(centers dont typically last a whole lot longer than 12 years), but he is putting his future as an athlete on the line to be a beacon of hope for other players in sports who are hiding who they really are from their team and, if they are like Collins, even their family and friends.
I am not here to get into a political debate over what your(or my) personal feelings about homosexuality are, because at the end of the day, this is a discussion about sports culture, not about anything else. I have always felt that overall, professional athletes are a much smarter and more open bunch than they are given credit for being, but all it takes is a couple of players to throw a wrench in all of that and the career of an openly gay athlete could be over.
Take the case of Chris Culliver. You probably remember his comments during media week before the superbowl, here they are again. per NFL.com.
“I don’t do the gay guys. I don’t do that,” Culliver told Artie Lange on his radio show Tuesday, via Yahoo! Sports, when asked if a gay teammate would be welcomed.
Culliver was asked if there were any gay players on the49ers.
“We don’t have any gay guys on the team,” Culliver said. “They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
If a player was gay, Culliver suggested the player should keep that fact to himself.
“Yeah, come out 10 years later after that,” Culliver said.
I do not feel that Cullivers opinions represent the majority of NFL players or even remotely close to a majority. The problem is, they dont have to. I would be willing to bet that on every 53 man roster in the NFL, there are at least 2-5 players who think like Culliver do, unfortunately, a small coalition of 5 very squeaky wheels is going to get a little grease. This would be an especially difficult situation if the team had no strong central leadership voice(like a Ray Lewis or a Drew Brees), or even worse, if that strong leadership voice were one of the small minded ones. For example(this is not a real example, just purely hypothetical) what if Ray Lewis were very openly anti-gay. Do you think a gay Raven would have been accepted? I doubt it.
on the flip side of that, a strong leadership voice with an open mind and a practical mind(i.e. lets not fracture the locker-room) could likely steer a team into openly accepting their team-mate. To flip the example from earlier, if a Ravens player were to come out and Ray Lewis were adamant that the team accept it, embrace it and move on from it, would there be any serious objectors? I think the leadership players in this league are ready, and i think that makes the rest of the league ready.
This again is the reason why Collins coming out is such an accomplishment in pro sports. I really hope more players will see what he has done and feel more comfortable with themselves and more able to be who they really are. The NBA was ready for it, I think the NFL is close, but we wont truly know until it happens. 95% of players would embrace it or at least be apathetic to it, its the 5% that I worry about. Hopefully I am wrong about them. Brendan Ayenbedajo says more players will follow Collins, he says it will be “soon”. I think the NFL is ready. We might find out in the very near future.