By: Eric Thomas

The reports — and they could come true by the time you’re reading this — suggest an NFL player will reveal himself as gay and face the predicted scorn and scrutiny of the public along with the skepticism of his teammates.

That seems to be the question, allowing for only two answers. The consensus is that the player, whoever he is, is a brave and bold Jackie Robinson type; about to wear the mantle of “first” as this country spends the approaching summer running its fingers over collected wounds earned by centuries of homophobia. The media drum roll only adds to the build up, but what if that player owns up to their private proclivities and the reaction is only a shrug? What if this doesn’t matter?

Don’t misunderstand this suggestion, this announcement would be significant, a game changer we might always remember. This person’s name will be noted in history books, a piece of trivia that will float on the surface of fans and non-fans alike. We will remember this person; there will be buildings named after them. It’s a brave act, especially when the media measured this player a target for animosity that will be worn regardless of the circumstances.

What if it doesn’t matter? What if an openly gay player announces their status and there’s very little reaction at all? It’s likely that the media will drum this up and pound every drop of dust out of this cushion. It’s also likely that there will be jerks in the stands. Those people, who spit bile in a spatter pattern, will do that regardless. What if there isn’t a coming backlash? What if no one really cares?

Sports have often led the charge for social integration. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and it wasn’t long after that many other teams followed suit. African American players were common within a few years and a near majority in some sports a few decades later. Jack Johnson, Earl Lloyd, Willie O’Ree all had their place in history. What if the history of them was learned and we move on without incident? What if, when we have Negro Day at the ballpark, we have learned the lesson of discrimination rather than just place it on another group?

TJ Lang joined Valenti and Foster yesterday on 97.1 The Ticket. When Mike asked where the criticism might come from, the Green Bay Packers’ guard suggested that the scrutiny was more likely to come from the public. He went on to say, “I think when you talk about football players…we’re all family. … Somebody in our locker room, if he happened to do that, I think, you know, that he would get the support he needs.”

“It might be awkward,” he admitted, “taking showers after practices, but for me it’s just something that never bothered me.”

That’s the point, and it’s why coming out is important. It’s easy to be homophobic in the abstract. When you talk about gay and transgender people as they or them, it’s very easy to generalize and marginalize. You can say you’re not comfortable. Once a friend or family member comes out it becomes a lot closer. Once “Gay” becomes “Gary,” you think a lot differently about it. You know this person, you know they’re not a bad guy or girl and it makes you question why you had such a problem with it.

So if a teammate comes out of the closet, does it really change the guy in the next locker? How can you hate someone for something that doesn’t have anything to do with you? It’s easy to talk about someone when you don’t have to look them in the face. If he’s a player on your team, will you change your opinion of him? If you do, doesn’t that say more about you than him?

This could be a pie in the sky suggestion, but public opinion and policy polls indicate the changing attitudes. The ice that used to form around the issue of homosexual rights has been thawing as of late. While the issue used to result in finger pointing screaming matches, it doesn’t seem to carry the same vitriol it used to. The country spent the last decade discussing this and it seems that most arrived at the attitude that this doesn’t matter.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t a big deal? Maybe after all the ugly incidents in our nation’s history, maybe this time we don’t take decades to realize our mistakes. Maybe we can learn the lessons of slavery, the trail of tears, subjugation of women, the KKK, railroad slave labor, internment camps, fire hoses and German shepherds, disability rights, and dozens of others. What if America doesn’t go kicking and screaming into this one?

It may be more of a wish than a question, but it would be nice.


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