Recently, Jason Collins, Michael Sam and Derrick Gordon began living their lives as openly gay men. This would not be newsworthy except that all three are black males and athletes.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” one personnel assistant with the NFL told SI.com. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
This person is not alone in his worldview.
This can be attributed to many factors, one of which is that black men are highly sexualized in media. Black men are also commonly viewed as brutes whose major function is to grunt and groan on the athletic field. They appear to be monuments of power, seemingly bred for brutality.
Given that professional sports in America is designed to bring those same sentiments to life using brute force, many fear the “gay brute” cannot be both. They believe that being gay will feminize the brute and thus ruin their desire to see black men play a game reserved for the manliest of men. There is an irreconcilable flaw in this logic, however. There have always been gay black men in sports who have fulfilled the brute fantasy.
The difference here is these men are not hidden; they chose to be authentic about who they are. And in response some fans have used that truth to raise the most vile, baseless stereotypes about what it means to be gay.
Former sportscaster Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder once said, “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way, because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs, and he’s bred to be the better athlete because this goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trade … the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.”
What will it take to make the NFL and the NBA shift their attitudes and practices to ones that consider open gays vital talent? First, they must acknowledge that their organizations, including the locker room, are a workplace.
Too many individuals view the locker room as a place where “only real men are allowed.” This is a place where teasing and slurs against gay men are acceptable.
Some pro athletes say they would not want to shower in the locker room if they knew there was another man looking at them in a sexual way. This flawed logic assumes men would find them attractive in the first place. And it conveniently forgets there are, and will continue to be, closeted gay men in professional sports.
The real issue for the teams, fans and owners is talent. It makes no more sense to turn a talented player away because he is gay than it does to turn him away because he is black.
Christopher J. Metzler is senior associate dean at Georgetown University SCS. He is the author of “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post-Racial America.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.