For the last several months there has been substantial media attention regarding the possibility of a male professional athlete coming out, specifically in the NFL. Pro football players like Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe chose to publicly acknowledge their support for a gay player in professional football. Although this has yet to happen, others are stepping up to prove that these players do at least exist among the ranks of the NFL.
Earlier this year, former professional offensive tackle Kwame Harris was outed by the media after an alleged public altercation with ex-boyfriend Dimitri Geier. Now, about two months later, Harris has decided to publicly address the fact that he identifies as a gay man. Harris originally played college ball for the Stanford Cardinal and was selected in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft, spending five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Oakland Raiders. In an interview with former Stanford teammate Coy Wire, Harris decided to come clean about what it was like being a closeted player in the NFL and what he wishes he would have done differently given the chance.
In the interview, which appeared on CNN Newsroom, Harris discussed whether he thought about coming out in the NFL, what that would have entailed, and what it was like to be a closeted professional athlete. "Football provided me with some experiences and some opportunities that I wouldn't trade for anything else, but at the same time, the cost was great in asking me to not speak candidly or be able to be open about myself in this complete manner. … (Because of this) you want to escape this despair, this turmoil", said Harris. Even though Harris says that he is happy today, and that it does get better, his comments still reflect the constricting environment associated with trying to play in the NFL as a gay man.
When reflecting on this, Harris stated, "I didn't see those two things (coming out and playing in the NFL) as being compatible, but now when I look back in hindsight, if I could have done it differently, I'd like to think that I would find the strength, or find the fortitude or the grace to make the hard decision (to come out)". Even though Harris only played a few years ago, the NFL has made great strides recently in allowing for the first openly gay player to feel welcome.
As Coy Wire stated after conducting the interview, it is current players such as Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe that empower people like Kwame Harris to speak publicly about being a gay athlete. Even though the NFL may need a current player to come out, the fact that Harris chose to publicly state that he is gay does help young LGBT athletes.
Examples of NFL players who are gay show these youth that they can also play football at the highest level. It also shows the public that gay football players can play the game as well as anyone else. There is a misconception that to be gay in men's organized sports somehow detracts from your masculinity, and therefore your ability to play the game or be competitive. Each new professional athlete with the courage to come out adds to the deconstruction of this myth and leads to a more equal playing environment for LGBT athletes. As Harris stated, "I want people, whether gay athletes, athletes still in the closet, or youths who are not sure what their sexuality is, to know those are common feelings (and that they shouldn't) feel alone in having them"