Football: America’s love child of violence and athletics, representing Sundays, beer, tailgates, twins and now … gay rights?
Even while it’s the home of rampant nudity and butt-tapping, the locker room has long been the icon of masculinity in our culture, with men in pads calling each other “gay” for the smallest of emotional inclinations. But when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo came out in support of same-sex marriage, it was not his teammates in the locker room who tried to suppress his voice. It was one of the Maryland state representatives.
Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat serving the 10th district in Maryland, wrote a letter to the owner of the Baltimore Ravens urging him to “inhibit such expressions” from an employee of the organization. Furthermore, he said that it is not the opinion of the National Football League or its fans that same-sex marriage should be legalized.
In response, Chris Kluwe, the Minnesota Vikings punter, sent Burns a caustic retort that has now circulated on the Web. In the letter, Kluwe asks Burns, “Why do you hate freedom?” and accuses him of trying to silence his constituents’ voices, violating their most basic First Amendment right of free speech.
Burns’ refusal to respond has only been met with skepticism from the media, wondering why a State Representative would publicly refute his party’s platform in the first place. As Burns drags his foot up into his mouth, Kluwe walks away having made several important points about homophobia as well as free speech.
Kluwe is the first among future pro football players to come out heavily in favor of LGBT rights, signaling the beginning of a new era in the United States. No longer is it out of the question for a player to come out while still on a pro team, even though we still await the first.
Like all trends in sports, acceptance of gay players is a change that has to start from the top and make its way down to the locker rooms of college and high school students. In this atmosphere, support of gay rights has thus far only given teammates a further reason to target the emotionally soft. Even if accepting same-sex marriage were the dominant opinion on the team, the players would have been afraid to speak out. Doing so jeopardizes not only a player’s manliness, but also his safety in what is meant to be a family.
Kluwe’s letter may seem a small gesture in a sport that is still the pinnacle of heterogeneity, but it may just be the tipping point in this generation’s young athletes. He gives them a positive role model who not only supports same sex marriage but also adamantly supports it in the face of adversity. Hopefully, that will give players the courage to stand up in the locker room and voice their support as well. Hopefully, it will stop the use of “fag” and “gay” as derogatory terms. Hopefully. it will lead to a cultural atmosphere where players are not afraid to come out in front of their teammates. And hopefully, it will breed teammates who accept those players, rather than ostracize them.
We are certainly not there yet, as Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar proved when he walked onto the field with “Tu ere Maricon” (roughly translated to “You are a Faggot”) etched into his eye black. What’s worse, he added he did not think it was a very bad phrase mid-press conference while he was supposed to be uttering a textbook apology to fans. Homophobia certainly still exists in pro sports as well as in youth locker rooms. However, as pro athletes lead the way in supporting gay rights, the youth culture will come to embrace not only gay rights, but gay players as well.