A dozen professional football players were asked this week about their thoughts on gay athletes and expressed unanimous support to Outsports.com--a story that has been picked up by mainstream media outlets, including CBS, NBC, Washington Post, and the NFL itself. Collectively, the reports show that the NFL is, contrary to popular belief, not only tolerant of gay athletes, but in fact could be an environment that fosters understanding and acceptance.
Players who spoke with Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler at the recent NFLPA Rookie Premiere events in Los Angeles strongly expressed that, gay or straight, your teammates are first and foremost your teammates; sexual orientation is mostly a nonissue, especially compared to how well one plays the game. Though CBS Sports speculates that the interviewed players “might still remain in the minority,” NBC Sports and Zeigler reports that these supportive attitudes are actually indicative of a becoming-less-silent majority.
Allies in the NFL include former player Jesse Palmer and Eagles back-up quarterback Nick Foles. Palmer tells Zeigler, “someone’s sexuality, that really should have no bearing or effect. At the end of the day you’re a team. That’s the important thing.” Palmer’s take on the subject aligns with, according to Zeigler, “the majority of voices we have heard in recent years [that] reflect all of these men: They don’t care if a teammate is gay.”
Zeigler explains that the men they spoke to “are NFL stats leaders, national champions and high draft picks. They are the past, present and future leaders of the NFL.” What has changed over time are not just the attitudes towards gay athletes and fans, but also the courage to vocalize support.
While NFL players are coming out in support of gay athletes, the popular stereotypes regarding the hyper-masculinity of sports culture making actually coming out as a gay athlete a daunting it task. Indeed, no NFL player has ever done so before retirement, which Zeigler also asked about. Palmer believes this is because “when people think football they think testosterone and hitting and masculinity.” Foles agrees that such stereotypes about sports culture exist, but in reality, football players “have hearts too. We’re normal people, and we just want to treat people decently.”