Tuesday, February 18, 2014

NFL Needs to Grow Up Now

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 17, 2014

By Bill Gouveia


            It became big news recently when a highly-ranked college football player who would normally be selected in the first few rounds of the upcoming National Football League draft announced he was gay.  The real question is – why was it such a big deal?


            Michael Sam will not be the first gay player in the NFL.  He could become the first openly gay player, which is really what the alleged story is here.  And all across America, players and fans and observers of the game are asking:  Is the NFL ready for an openly homosexual player?


            The answer is the league had better get ready.  It has no business trying to keep gay players off its fields and out of its locker rooms, any more than it can keep certain religions or races from its ranks.  The real issue is not whether the NFL is ready for gay players, but rather just how long it can continue to get away with being judged differently than the rest of America in this regard.


            Can you imagine a story breaking in the national press that a major accounting firm was about to hire the first openly gay CPA?  Or perhaps that the Associated Press was considering the hiring of an openly gay editor?  People would be outraged that the sexual preference of any potential employee was even an issue, since it in no way affects their ability to do their job.


            But the NFL (and other major sports leagues) have apologists who point to how different the leagues are from other institutions.  We are somehow supposed to believe that an NFL locker room is such a bastion of male hormonal behavior that the mere existence of an openly homosexual player would wreak havoc and cause serious harm to the franchises that rely on the public for their very survival.


            This macho crap is enough to make even a diehard sports fan like me throw up.  Spare me this indignant righteousness when it comes to protecting the good name of heterosexuality as it pertains to the athletic men who compete in the NFL.  They are in the workplace just like the rest of us, although their job is certainly more physically demanding than most.  They don’t get to make their own rules concerning the society in which they live, and it is high time they understood that.


            I have heard it said the NFL locker room is a place where homophobic references are commonplace, and forcing political correctness would change both the players and the game.  To which I reply – good, it’s about time. 


            Spare me this talk of “a brotherhood” as one NFL player put it.  The “tight-knit” teams will be torn asunder because they can’t crack gay jokes and humiliate their new co-workers. 


            That’s just doubletalk and excuses to try and allow these young millionaires to continue to avoid growing up.  They are supposed to concentrate totally on winning games and championships, so we somehow exempt them from being real and decent people at the same time.  That’s wrong and unacceptable.


            NFL locker rooms have been known to accept convicted criminals, regular drug users, and even sex offenders.  Somehow they manage to fit in to the “culture” of the league.  The idea that a gay teammate might somehow throw the entire franchise into disarray by doing nothing but being himself is absurdly stupid. 


            Many NFL experts say it will be the “distraction” an openly gay player will bring that will be the problem.  They also worry about those players of faith who will find it difficult to accept a teammate living a lifestyle they consider a sin.


            Having a gay player will only be as much a distraction as the league and the teams allow it to be.  Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is the poster boy for how to avoid distractions.  The rest of the league should watch and learn.


            And religion is a personal matter – much like sexual preference.  You don’t have to like or accept that of anyone else.  But yours does not override theirs in importance.


            Let’s make no more excuses for bad behavior by football executives and players.  Let’s start holding them to reasonable standards of behavior.  Let’s make that a big deal.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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