With the growing conversation about a gay NFL player coming out publicly, I keep hearing about this mythical "backlash" that's going to ensue, as though somehow the overall experience of that player will be negative. Brendon Ayanbadejo used that very word - "backlash" - as reason for several athletes to come out together at the same time.
Yet there is not a shred of evidence to say the first out NFL player is going to experience any kind of "backlash." In fact, all evidence says he's going to be overwhelmingly embraced.
Over the last 12 years, Outsports has written about the coming out stories of hundreds of athletes. They have been in high school, college, the Olympics and the pros. They have been in football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis and wrestling. They've been playing everywhere from Georgia to California, Australia to the UK. But no matter who they are or where they're from, their stories have all had the same outcome.
Every one of them had an overwhelmingly positive coming-out experience. In fact, most of them struggle to think about a single negative response they received at any time from anyone.
"But, no one has done it in the NFL, and that's totally different."
Funny, that's not what the several dozen NFL players I've spoken to, from RG3 to Scott Fujita to Rob Gronkowski, have told me. They've told me they don't care. They've told me about gay family members and playing with gay guys in the past. Dozens more have said the same thing to other reporters. And every anonymous poll of players backs them up on that, with recent polls even showing a majority of athletes support gay marriage.
Trent Richardson got mad when I asked him about this very thing: That somehow NFL players are different from everyone else. "People look at us and they think we're just big jocks," he said. "They don't look at us as far as us being smart. We're not just here because we play football and have talent. We had to work to get this far."
There's a funny thing about the guys in the pros... they're pros. Michael Irvin told me he never heard "faggot" in the locker room in the 1990s. He did in high school, heard it in college a bit, too. But the in the pros? Never.
"But they don't mean it, they're just saying that to reporters."
I'll tell you who doesn't really mean what they say: The guys saying homophobic things in the locker rooms. Many of the athletes I mentioned above say the same guys who yelled "faggot" the most were the first guys to apologize for doing so. They didn't mean it, they didn't know. Chris Culliver most recently said the same thing after his Super
Bowl comments, and he has followed that up with action.
After 15 years, I've gotten pretty good at telling when someone was lying to me, or when they don't fully believe what they say. And yeah, there was one guy in there who might fit that bill. One out of 36. I'll take those odds.
Think about this logically. With such a premium put on wins and losses in the NFL, do you really think a player is going to somehow run a productive player off a team because he's gay? Do you really think a deeply religious Christian on the Houston Texans would have a problem if J.J. Watt or Arian Foster came out publicly? No, they'd figure out a way to reconcile God with the gays real fast.
"But, the fans are the real problem. Have you seen the comments on the Internet?"
Yeah, according to comments on the Internet Barack Obama is a gay Muslim who was born on Mars. If we lived life by what anonymous Internet comments say, the Philadelphia Eagles would be two-time defending Super Bowl champs, the world would have ended last December, and the Cubs would win the World Series this year.
In poll after poll over the last 10 years, the vast majority of fans say they would have no problem with a gay player on their favorite team. In the last five years, that number has been over 80%. And like a Browns fan said to me a while back, if that player brings a Super Bowl ring to Cleveland, the number would be 100%.
"But, the media! The media is going to be a big problem. So much attention. How can one guy handle that?"
The media attention is going to be overwhelmingly positive. The media makes it easier to be homosexual than homophobic. Sure, there will be camera crews and interview requests. But like I said, these guys are pros.
There's one catch to this: He's got to do it at the right time. Two days before playing in the Super Bowl? Terrible idea. Two weeks after playing in the Super Bowl, five months before training camp starts? Awesome idea!
"But they're going to lose endorsement deals. No company wants to be associated with that."
I've talked to executives at two huge companies that work hand-in-hand with the NFL. Both companies tell me that not only do they hope the first out NFL player is someone they work with, but if it's not, they will pursue a deal with that player. Who have you talked to about it?
"But, but, he's going to get cut!"
Really? In today's culture, with the support of the media, fans and big corporations, a team is going to cut a player because he's gay? If anything, coming out publicly protects that player who could potentially be the victim of rumors and whispers.
"But, but, but..."