The last few weeks have been a little unusual for the NFL—and not just because my Packers have only recently returned to their usually superb selves.
Over the last month, we’ve seen a number of high profile confrontations between NFL players and anti-gay activists. This is a departure from the past. Indeed, former Green Bay defensive end Reggie White once made headlines as an outspoken opponent of LGBT people. Wasn’t the greatest moment for my moms and me.
But as the years have marched on, shifting social attitudes have empowered NFL players—who are particularly powerful straight allies—to speak out against homophobia. This is in line with what we’re seeing from other supposedly homophobic institutions, like the military, corporate America and even Major League Soccer. These developments, in the words of our vice president, are a “big f’in deal.”
As a former high school quarterback, I have to say it’s heartening to see our sports move in a more positive direction. Sports are combative and aggressive in nature, which makes expressing positive, non-adversarial support for a cause difficult. (Even during October, we talk about “destroying” and “eliminating” breast cancer.) This is why Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s letter in defense of gay marriage is about as forceful as it gets when it gets to this issue. Broadly speaking, we probably won’t be seeing fully universal support for LGBT people from the NFL any time soon.
That being said, supporters like Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens (who also made headlines in his support of gay marriage) are both part of the fissures that we’re starting to see in the wall of homophobia that has long separated professional athletics from more mainstream culture. Given how well the military has handled the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it won’t be surprising when this wall finally comes tumbling down. When it does, I’m certain that professional athletics will continue to do just fine.
In my mind, the importance of this development is difficult to overstate.
One of the last places from where we’re waiting for a gay professional athlete to emerge is the National Football League. We have already seen former NFL cornerback Wade Davis—an incredible guy, I recently had the pleasure of meeting—come out.
When asked about the future of this issue, he almost shrugged his shoulders. He described the sheer number of folks who are currently playing NCAA college football and pointed out that eventually there will be a guy who’s out but is simply too good to ignore in the draft or free agency. Not a matter of ideology, but of just playing good football.
Sounds about right to me.