Based on interviews over the past several weeks with current and former players, I'm told that a current gay NFL player is strongly considering coming out publicly within the next few months -- and after doing so, the player would attempt to continue his career.
I'm told this player feels the time is now for someone to take this step -- despite homophobic remarks from San Francisco 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver and the controversy arising recently at the Indianapolis Scouting combine, when prospects were asked questions about their sexuality.
This player's true concern, I'm told, is not the reaction inside an NFL locker room but outside of it. The player fears he will suffer serious harm from homophobic fans, and that is the only thing preventing him from coming out. My sources will not say who this alleged player is.
I've followed Mike Freeman (@realfreemancbs
) for quite some time -- he's one of the better NFL writers out there, and has a good grasp of what's going on both on the field and behind the scenes. I wouldn't be surprised if this report is true...and that the bigger trepidation is for the reaction from the fans, not the teammates.
This player is going to be a target -- in a sense, he's going to be the gay Jackie Robinson. He'll have to take the insults, the slurs, the name-calling and not respond in kind, and hope that his teammates and his play on the field will back him up. Any time he makes a mistake, there'll be callers to talk shows claiming that "homos can't play sports", and stand-up comics coming up with "tight end" jokes for their routines. Both his on-field and off-field behaviors will be scrutinized -- Goddess help him if he's seen going to a gay bar during Super Bowl Week, while straight players can go to strip clubs with relative impunity as long as they or their entourage don't shoot up the place, or father numerous children with multiple partners without anyone batting an eyelash (at least till they miss a child support check).
Folks like Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers and others notwithstanding, I believe the atmosphere in the locker rooms will be wary at first but then more of a "no big deal", depending which team he's with; players like Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings and Brendan Ayanbadejo of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (still kills me to type that) have made their support for gay rights including marriage equality known in no uncertain terms. The major issue is going to be in the front office -- will the coaches and GMs stand up to the homophobes in the fan base, or will they look to dump the player as soon as they can? With contracts not guaranteed in the NFL, this player is not only taking a personal risk, but potentially a financial risk as well.
It's going to be interesting to see what develops in the next several months -- this may be a far more interesting off-season than anyone ever guessed.