Some may remember our cover story prior to Super Bowl XLV about gays in professional sports (or the lack thereof), in which we talked to several former college and pro football players who came out after leaving the game. Incidentally, one of those former players, Brian Sims, was recently elected to the state House of Representatives in my home state Pennsylvania. But I digress.
In the story we noted that no active NFL player has ever come out. And needless to say, 16 months later, this hasn’t changed. But there are signs of progress.
Cyd Zeigler at OutSports, the website devoted to gays in athletics, reports that he attended the NFLPA Rookie Premiere events in Los Angeles recently, where he found surprisingly pro-gay attitudes among several current and former NFL players.
One of those players was Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor and the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. Griffin told OutSports that he had a gay teammate at Copperas Cove High School who quit the team after coming out. From OutSports:
While everyone we spoke with had some personal connection to the LGBT community, only one athlete said he had a teammate who had come out of the closet. The smile of Robert Griffin III, the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft, lit up the red carpet at the NFLPA’s Saturday Night Lights event in Hollywood. Known for his colorful socks, Griffin unknowingly chose a fitting pair – colored pink and purple – for his short, unexpected interview with Outsports.
Griffin remembered a high school teammate who had come out to his team in Copperas Cove, Texas. While Griffin said he has gay friends and wouldn’t care if a player came out on his new Washington Redskins team, he remembered a sad ending to the football career of his gay former teammate.
“When he came out, he stopped playing,” Griffin said. “He might have stopped playing because of the negative feedback he might have gotten from being that on the football team. So, I think that’s probably why he ended up quitting.”
It was from that out player that Griffin learned a gay teammate poses no threat.
“Just because they’re gay doesn’t mean they’re hitting on you,” he said.
Griffin’s story probably sheds some light on a less-talked-about reason why there are no out male players in the four major professional sports. Sure, there are undoubtedly plenty of closeted gay players who don’t come out because they fear the consequences, but it’s also true that many gay people simply give up on sports in middle school and high school, in part because they don’t want to be part of such a homophobic culture.