And yet, here’s Ayanbadejo, speaking publicly and articulately on behalf of TEH GAYS. It’s strange enough for a professional athlete to be politically vocal in any fashion beyond “Stay in school!” banalities. For one to champion a cause so contrary to the NFL’s cultural norms is startling, even sui generis. This is the league, after all, whose locker rooms were the breeding ground for the odious ”no homo” meme.
The big four American pro sports – football, men’s basketball, baseball and hockey – have yet to see an active player declare his homosexuality. A few former players have identified themselves as gay, most recently in 2007, when John Amaechi, once a journeyman NBA center, revealed his homosexuality in his published memoir. There’s also at least one example of an active player “coming out anonymously,” so to speak, in A Gay Athlete’s Life, a blog purportedly written by a closeted Major League Baseball player. But the gay Jackie Robinson – or, if you prefer, the Neil Patrick Harris of pro sports – still hasn’t announced himself.
"Football season is over, Veronica. Kurt and Ram had nothing left to offer the school except for date rapes and AIDS jokes."
Doesn’t it seem a bit overdue at this point? Granted, LGBT equality remains shamefully theoretical in many respects, but halting progress is apparent. Four states now recognize same-sex marriage, Barack Obama (at the risk of damning him with faint praise) is the most pro-LGBT president in history, and several members of the LGBT community made the short list for the latest U.S. Supreme Court appointment. Twenty-one states ban discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, and Congress is considering a ban on such employment nationwide. A gay man just hosted the Emmy Awards, and a gay woman is about to become a judge on American Idol. In polite company overt homophobia is taboo. Despite the many ways our laws and culture still fall short in this regard, homosexuality clearly doesn’t carry the same marginalizing stigma it once did. So when it comes to sports, what’s the hold-up, exactly?
The hold-up, it’s long been assumed, arises from the intimidatory climate of the locker room. We imagine that any athlete who comes out will suffer ridicule and pariahdom at the hands of teammates, and that the resulting work environment could be even more excruciating than life in the closet. No doubt this hypothesis owes something to well-worn stereotypes of athletes as towel-snapping sadists (à la Ram and Kurt in Heathers). More reasonably, perhaps, we recognize that college is where many people encounter LGBTs for the first time, and that a lot of pro athletes either didn’t attend college or did so only briefly. It’s not crazy to imagine that they’re not as well socialized in diversity matters as we’d like.