In the recent past, LGBT issues were only part of the NFL landscape when players held press conferences to assure fans that despite the rumors, they are not gay (without even adding the requisite “not that there’s anything wrong with that“).
But as a direct result of the movement for marriage equality, there are green shoots for social justice becoming visible in the locker room.
Baltimore Ravens three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo came out for full marriage equality, writing in the Huffington Post:
Looking at the former restrictions on human rights in our country starting with slavery, women not being able to vote, blacks being counted as two thirds of a human, segregation, no gays in the military (to list a few) all have gone by the wayside. But now here in 2009 same sex marriages are prohibited. I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as every one else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?
Scott Fujita, defensive captain of the New Orleans Saints, supports Ayanbadejo’s stance. “I hope he’s right in his prediction, and I hope even more that it doesn’t take that long. People could look at this issue without blinders on…the blinders imposed by their church, their parents, their friends or, in our case, their coaches and locker rooms. Fujita continued, “I wish they would realize that it’s not a religion issue. It’s not a government issue. It’s not even a gay/straight issue or a question of your manhood. It’s a human issue. And until more people see that, we’re stuck arguing with people who don’t have an argument.” Fujita has also endorsed the October 11 National Equality March in Washington.
Given the protective moats of testosterone that surround the locker room, these are gutsy moves.
But as we celebrate the courage of the few, how do we explain the views of the many? Why is homophobia so prevalent in pro football? Former NFL player Dave Meggyesy checks off a whole series of reasons: “Male culture, fear of weakness, being different. Women being seen as second-class humans, and the association of homosexuality with the feminine or woman and weakness. Fear of their own bisexual or homosexual feelings, and often times confusing feelings of affection and sexual feelings.”
There is also the presence in the locker room of the evangelical Christian organization Athletes in Action. I asked Tom Krattenmaker, author of the forthcoming book Onward Christian Athletes, about evangelicals and athletics. He said, “Typically half the teams’ chaplains come from AIA. Like its Campus Crusade for Christ parent organization, AIA has not been a friend to gays. Campus Crusade, in fact, explicitly states on job applications that homosexuals are not welcome on staff.”