Out Of Touch Attitudes

A group of Red Sox players appeared on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" in 2005. (Getty Images)

A group of Red Sox players appeared on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" in 2005. (Getty Images)

If we want to fumigate the worst homophobia from a professional sports locker room, the best way to do it would be to play a highlights reel of decrepit journalists dismissing the athletes as mindless Neanderthals. I’ve heard this in person from colleagues in person and on the radio for years. It would act as instant aversion therapy, because athletes like nothing more than proving people wrong.

Typically, the media members who dismiss the idea of a gay athlete coming out of the closet are over 40 or close to it. Most of them are relying on old information. It may hold up, but they don’t really know how a 25-year-old would deal with a gay teammate.

They can’t grasp that today’s players grew up with friends and cousins who were openly gay, with peers who had same-sex parents, with “Will and Grace” on the air and the issue of marriage equality on the table. Marriage rights became  a national topic in 2004, when most of today’s NFL players were in high school.

Would some players behave badly? Of course. Would most of them? We have no idea.

If we’re looking at this from an elder’s perspective, we should borrow a theory long ascribed to Casey Stengel. He has been quoted as saying a baseball manager typically had five guys who would run through walls for him, five who hated him and 15 who were undecided. He had to keep the undecided away from the five who hated him.

In an NFL locker room, that could be the issue for the first openly gay athlete. He’ll probably have a cadre of supporters, a group of haters and a large group in the indifferent category. The supporters have better shot at winning over those in the middle. They have momentum. The hardcore opponents, if they can’t contain their animosity, have sensitivity seminars waiting for them. They know that. If they don’t, their PR people have pink slips waiting for them.

Will it be easy for the player? Of course not. It will be difficult and, at times, painful – as all the most rewarding things are. But until recently, the media had perpetuated the belief that it will be impossible.

In 2005, several of the Boston Red Sox had just appeared on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and Johnny Damon had said he’d welcome a gay teammate by swatting him on the butt with a towel. I wrote that we weren’t that far away, and media colleagues insisted that I underestimated the homophobia in locker rooms. Eight years later, the Supreme Court has a brief in support of gay marriage signed by 10 current NFL players. Athletes are taught to avoid politics whenever possible, but several have dived into this issue.

The media underestimate this generation of athletes and, as ever, resist change. For them, an openly gay NFL player in 2013 is the equivalent of advanced baseball statistics 15 years ago. They can certainly find evidence to support their point. Kobe Bryant uttered a gay slur at a ref and took a fine two years ago. Mark Knudson, a former MLB pitcher, recently wrote an essay for Mile High Sports saying that an openly gay teammate would damage team unity.

But last month, Bryant not only chided a Twitter user for homophobia but also said that his own remark had been “ignorant.” Public figures rarely revisit their indiscretions. They always want to move forward. Bryant’s comment was extraordinary, and far more revealing than the casual thoughtless use of a slur.

As for Knudson, he isn’t much of an authority. He retired 20 years ago.

5 thoughts on “Out Of Touch Attitudes

  1. I believe very few straight guys want to share a locker/dressing/shower area with a gay dude. Basketball court, baseball field, hockey rink, fine. The guy in the office two doors down is gay, so what. However, I don’t have to shower with him though.

    Yeah, yeah, I know that we have without knowing it. But it is when it is known that would make it ewww. OK, now abuse the english language by calling me “homophobic”.

  2. Gwen: You nailed it.

    Well-done.

    Justanobservation: You’re not homophobic.

    But I bet you ain’t good-looking enough for a guy to hit on.

    Seriously, gay guys — especially those in committed relationships — aren’t gonna be eyeing other guys’ packages.

    • I am definitely not good-looking enough for a gay guy or straight woman to hit on.

      “Seriously, gay guys — especially those in committed relationships — aren’t gonna be eyeing other guys’ packages.” How do you know that? If even one person does “eye someone’s package” while they are naked in a shower, in a sexual way, is that not sexual harassment?

      By your logic, shouldn’t we get rid gender identification of all locker rooms, and have males, females, gay, straight, all dressing together?

  3. The problem with the whole gay teammate argument, both for and against, is that the sides are so entrenched in their viewpoint to the point of borderline elitism that the other point of view is usually frowned upon and summarily rejected.

    Personally, I would have no problem with a gay teammate if I were a professional athlete. I’ve been in a locker room with people that I knew were gay, including complete strangers (they were talking about going to a rather well-known Toronto gay bar to pick up, so it was pretty obvious to figure out). Didn’t bother me personally. They weren’t after me…they were just talking, and I’m not even sure they knew I was in the locker room. I also have a gay relative, and he’s pretty much the “backup daddy” to my daughter when I’m not around.

    The problem is that I have relatives and friends who are well-meaning and intelligent people (e.g. engineers) that are also extremely homophobic and/or disgusted by the lifestyle. They’re not bad people. They generally have a strong sense of morality. They just find the whole idea of homosexuality repulsive.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call them “out of touch”, either. I wouldn’t try to force my own beliefs on them, although they generally know what mine are and that we disagree. I don’t judge them negatively, because overall they’re good people, and sexual orientation shouldn’t be the wedge issue it has become. We learned to find common ground with other things and to disagree on the gay thing without getting into arguments.

    That’s what I think both sides (pro and anti-gay) miss and why if there’s an “out of touch” factor, it’s on both sides…people are too busy slamming the other side to evaluate the people on it as individuals. Neither side is 100% right, and neither side is 100% wrong. People on both sides need to chill out, find some reason and some common ground, and then we can stop blowing the whole gay acceptance angle out of proportion (and let’s be honest…it is blown out of proportion).

  4. Let’s frame it this way. What if you were a woman required to use the men’s locker room? Let’s say you know the guys, they’re your buddies, they’re all supposedly in normal, committed relationships. But you know that out of the corner of their eyes they’re aware of female your contours, your jugs, whatever. There’s a snapshot of your naked body in the background of their brains. Now every time you play a game or work out you have to go back into that. Say with a straight (?!) face that it doesn’t put you off. If you want gay players in pro sports, maybe the answer is private dressing rooms and showers. For the millions they are getting paid it may not be so exhorbitant. Go and aggressively solve the problem and defuse it.