LOS ANGELES, April 8, 2013 — Rumors are swirling that at least one current player in the National Football League will announce publicly that he is gay. While some retired players have come out, no player has done so while playing.
Gays now serve in the military, and a gay player in an NFL locker room would open up the floodgates in other sports.
Once an NFL player steps out of the closet, his life is forever changed. Since 10% of the population is gay, there is every reason to think that there are a decent number of gay NFL players right now already.
For players thinking of coming out, there is one piece of advice that they should take seriously: Be a phenomenal football player.
Good is not good enough. Great is not good enough. The first openly gay player must have Hall of Fame potential.
The first player sets the tone and his failure to do so could prolong others from breaking the barrier indefinitely. This is true with any trendsetters in sports or the military.
Jackie Robinson was more than just the first black man in Major League Baseball. He was a spectacular baseball player. His success opened the doors for other owners who valued winning over racism.
The NFL was not so lucky. In 1974, Joe Gilliam, a black American, was the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team already had Terry Bradshaw, the hero of the “Immaculate Reception” from two seasons earlier. However, Gilliam played subpar and then descended into drug abuse.
Bradshaw regained the starting job and led a dynasty to four Super Bowls.
The NFL finally had a black quarterback success story in 1987 when Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl win. Yet Gillam’s stumble delayed the breaking of the color barrier.
In military life, Shannon Faulkner became the first woman to try and graduate from the Citadel as a cadet. She showed up out of shape (by Citadel standards, not ordinary standards) and dropped out. Women would eventually graduate from the Citadel and VMI, but she was not up to the task.
The NFL rewards winners and ruthlessly punishes losers. It is the epitome of a meritocracy. Retired coach Bill Parcells told his star running back that when a player comes out of the huddle because of an injury, he never knows who will be taking his place in that huddle.
Vince Lombardi was the epitome of a winner. He said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” When one of his black players told Lombardi of his desire to marry a white woman, Lombardi supported the couple and stated that his only priority was winning on Sundays. That was in 1958, before America had even legally integrated.
The late Senator Barry Goldwater once said about gays in the military that “a man does not have to be straight. He just has to shoot straight.”
Well, a gay quarterback had better be able to throw straight and accurately.
JaMarcus Russell is one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history. Had he failed thirty years ago, people may have blamed his race. Yet in the modern era, black quarterbacks are flourishing. Russell had his equal shot, and he made the least of it.
Tim Tebow is seen by some as a curiosity due to his overt Christian religiosity. Yet Tebow had the road paved for him a couple decades earlier due to the late “Minister of Defense,” Reggie White. White could preach soft-spoken words of the Lord’s blessings to quarterbacks after he belted them to the ground. A woman recently tried out at the NFL Combine for the first time. She came in as a kicker, and her kicks were terrible.
No kicker should come out as gay right now. With the exception of Sebastian “The Polish Cannon” Janikowski, kickers are not as respected as stars on offense or defense. To quote announcer Paul Maguire, “I hate kickers. They should be paid $50 a game.”
The biggest stars in the NFL right now are quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, defensive standout Ray Lewis (who just retired), receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, and running back Adrian Peterson.
If a player is going to announce his homosexuality, it has to be a player at the very top of the elites.
Announcing one’s homosexuality in a professional sports environment means extreme pressure. So is trying to complete or stop the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl with everything on the line. A football player who cracks under pressure is not the right person to lead a serious movement.
A gay player should not be blamed for a loss just because he’s gay any more than he should be credited with a win just because he is gay. He should be blamed for not completing a pass, missing a tackle or a block, or fumbling the football.
That is what football players have always been judged on.
So to that first gay player, success requires obeying the maxim of Super Bowl winning coach Bill Bellichick. “Do your job.”
Then do it very well. Then do it even better than that.
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.”
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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