When I was 7 years old, my friends and I would play football in my backyard for hours, often with my mother watching through the kitchen window. One of the games we played was called "smear the queer." At the time I didn't know what "queer" meant. I only knew if you were brave enough to pick up the ball, you were "the queer" and would get creamed. As I got older, I learned what that term meant, and then, in high school, I realized that I was gay. But that image of how "the queer" got "smeared" stayed with me. I ultimately realized my goal of becoming a professional football player, but being open about my sexuality while I was a player seemed far too dangerous to consider. Recently, in a television interview, LZ Granderson, a journalist who has been honored for his efforts to combat homophobia in sports, called closeted gay professional athletes "chickens." He's not alone in demanding that athletes and other public figures divulge their sexual orientation and other aspects of their personal lives. But as someone who was closeted during my time in the NFL, I'd suggest it's not always that simple.
- our work