LOS ANGELES, June 10, 2012 – Of all the areas in society where being gay is still taboo, the National Football League may still be at the top of the list. While there is no prohibition on gay players, self-censorship exists out of fear. The locker room is an alpha-male dominated area where only tough guys should venture.
Once again, barriers are starting to break down. A pair of announcements got very little attention.
A few weeks ago, ABC News personality Robin Roberts interviewed President Barack Obama on the subject of gay marriage. President Obama announced his support for it, and Ms. Roberts was granted an exclusive interview with him.
Cynics immediately noticed that President Obama chose her because she is a black lesbian. This would appeal to three minority constituencies. Yet Ms. Roberts has kept her lesbianism as an “open secret.” She does not put her personal life out in the open because she is a consummate professional. She prefers to be an interviewer, not the focus of the interview. So when she was “outed” last month, my reaction was one of surprise followed by indifference. Robin Roberts being a lesbian is not cause for celebration or condemnation.
Robin Roberts wants to be judged on merit, so let’s do that.
Ms. Roberts is simply one of the best ESPN football commentators in the history of that network. When she joined Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on “NFL Primetime,” she fit in seamlessly. In 2012, having a woman discuss the National Football League seems ordinary. If times were different a couple of decades ago, the boat left without me. Ms. Roberts did her job discussing football with intellect and humor.
My favorite expression of hers was when a player such as Ernest Givins would score a touchdown and do a creative end zone dance. Her catch-phrase was “Go on with your bad self!” It became every bit as important to the sports lexicon as Stuart Scott exclaiming “Boo-yah!” and Chris Berman shouting “He could go all the way!”
We will never know if she would have been accepted by the NFL Primetime audience had it been known she was a lesbian. Football fans like analysts who know football. Ms. Roberts clearly knows football. That very well may have been enough.
Yet being a reporter or analyst who happens to be gay is not the same as being a player. Over the last few years, several retired NFL players have announced their homosexuality. They all said they were afraid to speak while they were still playing.
Then a few days ago something changed.
Former NFL player Wade Davis announced that he is gay. Mr. Davis retired seven years ago, and now works in the LGBT community. While his announcement was ordinary, the response by a current player is what really makes this story different.
Jevon Kearse, nicknamed “The Freak,” came out in support of his former teammate.
(Mr. Kearse has not played in the NFL since after the 2009 season. He has not retired, but in 2010 was unsigned. At age 35, he still wants to play. So referring to him as a “current” player is debatable. He considers himself one, which is sufficient for this discussion.)
Mr. Kearse was a feared and respected defender who was as tough as they came. He was also well-regarded in the locker room, so his reaction was important.
“I know there have been a lot more than just Wade,” Kearse said. “It’s just becoming more acceptable, which is a good thing so they can come out and not feel secluded.”
The Freak gets it.
What makes the National Football League the greatest league in all of sports comes down to the one word that defines America. The NFL is a meritocracy.
The issue is not whether Tim Tebow is a devout Christian. Husain Abdullah being a religious Muslim is irrelevant. Alan Veingrad is an Orthodox Jew, which only means something outside of sports.
What matters when the game is being played is how the game is played. Mr. Tebow as a quarterback has to throw an oblate spheroid. Mr. Abdullah as a free safety has to try and intercept the ball. Mr. Veingrad during his playing days as an offensive lineman had to keep quarterbacks from getting belted.
Some will say that being gay is different, but that same argument was made about whether black players could join white players on the football field.
This is not about gay marriage. A better analogy would be about letting gays into the military. Inappropriate conduct by any individual should be punished, but merely being gay or straight is not tantamount to any particular positive or negative conduct.
NFL fans should be perfectly fine with a homosexual football star provided he helps the team win football games.
So while Wade Davis coming out matters, Jevon Kearse’s reaction matters even more. This is the world we live in now. Other players may wish to back up Mr. Kearse on this one.
For his decency and respect, there is only one thing to say to Mr. Kearse.
In the immortal words of Robin Roberts, “Go on with your bad self!”
Editor’s note: This column was written and published only hours before Ms. Roberts announced that she had been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. She beat breast cancer five years ago, and made it clear she will beat this illness as well. She needs a transplant, and thankfully her sister is a perfect match. Ms. Roberts appeals to such a diverse group of people, and we are all praying for her.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian who is obsessed with the National Football League. There is no offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September.
Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.” When not watching football, his only other hobby is Republican, Jewish women. Republican, Jewish women, you may contact Eric above.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS
Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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