BY PETER HOUSTON – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
The support Jason Collins received – not just in the NBA but around the sporting world – after coming out as the first active gay athlete in a major North American sport was nothing short of amazing. High profile players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant pledged their support for Collins and commended his courage. Former players and high profile commentators like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal praised his leadership. But maybe the most important reaction and the most telling of the NBA’s attitude towards having an openly gay player was that of commissioner David Stern. He said “Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.” Stern’s statement was meaningful because he set the NBA’s official party line as one of acceptance.
No other major professional sport in North America has an active player who is openly gay, but the attitude towards that eventual, inevitable situation is pretty clear in the NHL. The league and the NHLPA set the bar by recently teaming up with You Can Play, and organization aimed at eliminating homophobia in sports. You Can Play will hold seminars for NHL rookies and make counseling and support available confidentially to players, among other things.
But one league that may be going backwards on the issue of LGBT support is the NFL. For example, after this year’s scouting combine, the league was forced to put up posters of their anti-discrimination rules in locker rooms after multiple players were asked about their sexual orientation in interviews.
But it isn’t just management in the NFL; numerous players have voiced their anti-gay opinions. Before this year’s Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver said he was not OK with gay players in the NFL or on his team. He said “I don’t do the gay guys man, I don’t do that. No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.”
He’s not the only one. Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons said coming out would be a “selfish act.” Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace reacted to the Jason Collins news by tweeting “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys [shaking my head]…” What’s got me shaking my head is that Wallace lacks a basic understanding of science and thinks being gay is a choice.
There are those in the NFL, however, who have been vocal in their support of LGBT rights, notably Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe. Another thing they have in common is that they were both cut by their teams this offseason.
Ayanbadejo’s release was a straightforward case of a team trying to save money and get rid of an older player with declining productivity. But Kluwe’s situation was a little more odd. Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings’ punter, is coming off a season where he posted a career best 39.7 net punting average. He’s also only due $1.45 million this year. Doesn’t seem like the type of player who’s typically the victim of budget conscious cutbacks. That naturally leads one to wonder: could his release have something to do with his outspoken nature, specifically his support for gay rights? He was released on Monday, a week after Jason Collins came out and at a time where there is speculation that an active NFL player could come out soon. Did the Vikings just want nothing to do with Kluwe’s inevitable public commentary on the issue?
It’s impossible to say for sure, but it sure seems suspicious. In a league where executives ask prospective players about their sexual orientation, and a league where current players feel comfortable enough to make anti-gay statements publicly, it sure doesn’t look good. When it comes to LGBT acceptance, there’s no doubt the NFL has a bad image compared to the NBA and NHL. At best, this is just a public relations problem for the NFL. At worst, they have no interest in accepting and welcoming the LGBT community and will end up on the wrong side of history.