In response to Michael Sam’s historic decision to come out as gay in advance of the May NFL draft, several league executives and other personnel decided to match his courage by anonymously coming out as cynical homophobes.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” an unnamed NFL player personnel assistant told Sports Illustrated. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Prior to his announcement, draft forecasters predicted that Sam would be chosen in the third round, meaning he would have been almost guaranteed a place on a team. But the executives and personnel who talked to Sports Illustrated each argued that Sam will drop in the draft now that he’s come out.
Sam’s announcement was “not a smart move,” one assistant coach remarked to Sports Illustrated. “You shouldn’t have to live your life in secrecy, but do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down in this league?”
“[Being openly gay] will break a tie against that player,” a former general manager also observed. “Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’”
Homophobia in sports is not limited to the NFL, but these comments suggest that anti-LGBTQ bias is deeply entrenched in league culture, and that players, coaches and executives aren’t interested in changing.
“There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that,” an assistant coach said of Sam’s announcement. “There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality. It shouldn’t be, but it will be.”
People may defend these remarks as “honest,” but they are also barely concealed defenses of a toxic league culture. These personnel may believe they are just passively observing and commenting on the NFL as it currently exists, but they are part of the problem. There is no neutral here.
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe last month wrote a scathing indictment of the coaches and executives who he said made anti-LGBTQ comments and perpetuated a culture of bigotry during his time as a player; he also said he believed his pro-LGBTQ advocacy lost him his job.
So if there is no room in the NFL for LGBTQ players, and no room in the NFL for pro-LGBTQ players, how are things expected to change? By divine fiat? Changing dehumanizing cultural norms takes real, actual work. The lack of personal responsibility for that work shown by these anonymous insiders is laughable, shameful.
Earlier in 2013, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was widely criticized when he said, “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.” But what is abundantly clear about the comments from league personnel is how the NFL has embraced the subtle operation of homophobia in its draft and locker room culture. Discrimination against LGBTQ players is acceptable — even encouraged — as long as it’s quiet.
It’s when the homophobia gets loud that the trouble starts.