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The Super Bowl is the world’s largest sporting event, with billions of TV viewers, hundreds of millions of dollars in promotions and events and the attention of the world on the two teams who will take the field next Sunday. What the world will not see are any gay players, or any gay presence in the announcers’ booth, coaching staffs, TV ads, or half time entertainment.
The Super Bowl is the Super Closet for anyone in or around the NFL. That’s not to say that there are no gay players. There are certainly gay players, and most likely there will be at least one gay man on the gridiron at Ford Field Sunday. But it is taboo to be a gay football player, and anyone with the audacity to come out while still an active player risks severe physical harm.
Esera Tuaolo played in the NFL for nine years, all the while deathly afraid that someone would discover his secret, and that his career, fame and fortune would immediately evaporate. He had good reason to be afraid. And if he had any doubts, his former teammate Sterling Sharpe of the Minnesota Vikings, confirmed his worst fears when Sharpe told HBO’s Real Sports, “If the guys found out another player was gay on Monday, he wouldn’t be able to play on Sunday,” essentially admitting that a gay player would be gay-bashed by his own teammates. “Question my heart, question my ability, but do not question my machoism,” said Sharpe.
These are not small men making idle threats. Some NFL linemen are over 6′ 7″ tall and weigh over 320 lbs., and if one of them decided to hurt a fellow player, he certainly would be physically capable of doing so.
One wonders what these huge, powerful men are afraid of. It seems they would have little reason to fear anyone, and that with their strength and size they could certainly thwart any unwanted advances. Yet the very idea of being on a team with a gay man terrifies them. And it is not just in the NFL that gay is not spoken. All professional team sports deny their gay players the opportunity to live openly and freely and still compete. There are no openly gay baseball or basketball players. There are a handful of openly lesbian tennis players and golfers (both solitary sports), but no gay men.
This same fear of bonding with a gay man is what scares the military into refusing to allow openly gay soldiers in the U.S. armed services, even now when the military is falling woefully short on its recruiting requirements, and the demands on the armed services for qualified personnel is growing.
We would like the macho men of the world to relax a bit. It’s really not so bad having a gay teammate. Their personal sex lives have no bearing on their ability to carry their weight on the field, whether on the gridiron or the battlefield. The threat is entirely internal to these delicate macho men. The gay man who may be covering your back or blocking downfield for you is not posing a real threat.
The gay man has far more reason to fear you, because you have actually threatened him.
The closet is a lie, and lies breed fear and violence. The best way to make the NFL safer for players who fear that their machismo is threatened, and for the gay players that share the field with them, is to let the gay players be out and open. The NFL would show the world how really tough they are if they passed a non-discrimination policy that protected gay personnel – and enforced it. They could then say they were truly afraid of no one.