Superbowl XLVII re-ignites debate over NFL attitudes toward LGBT issuesEntertainment Feature Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Battling it out this year at Superbowl XLVII are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Feb. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Superbowl is easily the most watched sporting event of the year. It attracts not only football fans, but even non fans due to the spectacular nature of the production. This is the day our nation’s companies unveil their most creative and dynamic advertisements; the nation’s biggest singers and bands play before and in between the game; families and friends get together to eat, drink and hang out … it’s basically an unsanctioned national party day.
So how does the Superbowl impact the gay and lesbian community? For that matter, what does the NFL and the players in the NFL say about their support or lack thereof of LGBT issues and concerns.
Football is without a doubt, the nation’s most macho sport. Its violence is undeniable. Grown men hit, tackle, shove and slam into each other in every play. The players themselves take pride in playing injured.
Given the amount of macho posturing by the players, it’s not a surprise that there aren’t any present football players who have come out as gay. Though there has been a largely progressive attitude in the country toward LGBT rights in recent years, one of the biggest public taboos remains a male pro athlete in one of the big three sports (MLB,NBA,NFL) coming out as gay during his playing days. It has never happened, but that’s not to say it can’t or won’t.
Though it would be easy to stereotype the players and league as homophobic, the truth is that attitudes toward gay players have softened in recent years.
For example, take Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is a current linebacker for NFL team the Baltimore Ravens. Since 2009, Ayanbadejo has been an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage, though he is not gay.
In response to his vocal support, Ayanbajedo was targeted by Emmet Burns, a Maryland state delegate. In August 2012 Burns wrote to the owner of the Ravens asking him to “inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he cease and desist such injurious actions.” Basically, this letter called for the owner to infringe on his players First Amendment rights to free speech. The owner rightfully ignored the politician’s letter.
There was a brief firestorm of controversy over Emmet Burns’ letter to the Ravens. Insulted by Burns casual disregard of the First Amendment, current Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, wrote a response defending gay marriage, telling Burns that making gay marriage legal “won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster.”
Though there are no current NFL players who are “out,” Wade Davis, a former NFL cornerback, did recently come out. In an interview, he said he knew of three current NFL players who are gay, but not out, but who are known by their teammates to be gay. Davis explained that inside the clubhouse it’s not a problem because the players aren’t faced with the media asking them what they think of their out and proud teammate.
In Davis’ view it will take straight players to “start affirming the fact that they’re OK with playing with gay teammates. Because there are more straight players. If all of them create this voice; if Peyton Manning and all these other guys come out and say something people will say, maybe I need to listen or revisit my way of thinking now because these guys are OK with it.”
Jamie Kuntz, an 18-year-old former college football player, has a slightly different opinion on the acceptance of a gay player coming out in the NFL. Kuntz was let go by his college team after his relationship with a much older man was discovered. Though the story as to exactly why he was kicked off the team is in dispute, Kuntz is convinced it was because he is gay.
I asked Kuntz about this and his feelings about the NFL’s attitude toward the gay community. He said, “I think they are just waiting for another team to give a gay player a chance. Once a player comes out and performs well, it shouldn’t be an issue.” As for his own plans for Superbowl Sunday, Kuntz said he would “just sit around with some friends and watch the game!”
I also wanted to know what members of the gay and lesbian community thought of the NFL and the Superbowl in particular. I talked to Charlie Spanza and Kenneth Wright, an openly gay couple from San Diego. I asked them what it will take for a gay player to come out, and they replied, “It’s just going to take one or two players to prove to everyone that just because someone has a different sexual preference than them that they are still equal. It’s like saying, ‘Oh, redheads can’t play football.’ Why? Just because the color of their hair? Well being gay is the same. It has no impact on how well a person can perform on the field.”
When I asked for Spanza’s thoughts on the Superbowl, he responded, “I’m not into football, nor is Kenneth. To be honest, we use the Superbowl as an excuse to gather some friends and family and watch the commercials over drinks and good food.”
For Spanza and Wright, Superbowl Sunday is all about drinks, food and funny commercials. “In my household,” said Spanza, “It’s quite different than the rest; we rarely set eyes on the actual game; we’d rather talk through it and carry on with some good laughs over the commercials.”
Sounds to me like a good way to spend the day!
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