It’s no real secret that homophobia in professional sports remains an immense hurdle. Now a sports writer for the Chicago Tribune has publicly come out of the closet and put the NFL specifically on blast for what he says is still a culture that demonizes being gay.
In a column titled “NFL still in closet about anti-gay culture,” author Chris Hine discusses his own experience as a gay man working adjacent to the still-homophobic league, as well as recent instances that suggest football is failing to make strides towards acceptance despite an official stance to the contrary.
At the NFL combine a few weeks ago (yes, the same one that saw a defensive lineman slip out of his shorts), Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple was interviewed by the Falcones and the first question was, “Do you like men?”
Hine reveals: “As a 29-year-old gay man, I spent the better part of two decades agonizing over that question and finally, when I was 20, came to accept that the answer was ‘Yes.’ It took another two years before I could tell my family, another year after that before I mustered up the courage to tell my closest friends and, well, six years after that to finally write about it in the Chicago Tribune.”
Apple later explained: “(The assistant) was like, ‘If you’re going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that’s how it is around here, you’re going to have to get used to it.’ ”
If you read between the lines, Manuel is essentially saying, “Hey, if we pick you, you’re going to live in Atlanta and you might be out somewhere and get hit on by a gay guy. You’re OK with that, right? But you’re also not going to go home with him, right?”
Whatever the assistant’s intention, it’s a remarkably awkward and obtuse way to begin a conversation.
It’s also a dangerous line of thinking. It is clear the assistant thinks being gay is a negative thing, something he must guard against, and that associating with gay men is a fact of life in Atlanta, but it is something the assistant is telling players they must deal with, like it’s a burden.
Hine takes it a step further, linking the assistant coach’s insensitivity to younger player’s attitudes, like a group of high school players who recently made headlines after an antigay hazing ritual turned violent.
While the day being gay is treated no differently from being straight may still be a ways off in the NFL and professional sports in general, we commend Hine for taking his own leap of courage to make his voice heard.