There’s No Time Like Now for Equality: My Response on Being Openly Gay in the NFL

The image on the right, courtesy of NBC News

The image on the right, courtesy of NBC News

I’m finally going to weigh in.  I’ve been sitting back on this and listening, and now it’s time…

Terrell Thomas, CB, New York Football Giants, on welcoming Michael Sam, the first openly (and I stress, openly – because he certainly is not the first) gay player into the NFL:

“I think society is ready for it and America’s ready for it, but I don’t think the NFL is. As a player, all you want to know is if he can play. That’s on the field. But in the locker room, it’s different.” ~ Terrell Thomas

Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News

Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News

Honestly, I was really disappointed to read the comments coming from someone who I typically believe to be a leader in the locker room and on the field, and who I respect very much for the commitment and resilience he has shown to come back from his own adversity.  Thomas is, from what I have seen, a good man, but is he truly demonstrating leadership skills NOT to take a stand if HE, as an American citizen, truly believes America is ready?

In an interview with ESPN’s Dan Graziano, Thomas goes on:

“You’re talking about playing in the NFL, the grind, the brotherhood, the joking that goes along with it. The locker room may not be ready for that, because it’s the kind of thing that changes everything.”

“It may make guys feel like they have to change the way they carry themselves and some of the things they say. You’re talking about a league where things have been done a certain way for a long time, and now you’re going to expect people to change, and people may not know how to do that the right way.”

And so I ask this: When is the right time? Why would it all of a sudden be any different if not now? Why not now? Why not treat people as equals today? And if there are players in the locker room that need to ‘change’ their behavior – so what if they don’t know how? When would be the right time for them to learn to adjust so that every man who can play the game at the NFL level, has the right to be who they were born to be, AND be treated with respect as an equal? What would a better ‘prepared’ locker room look like?  Is there a reason why the NFL should be held at a different standard than other businesses?

How would you answer these questions?

Jackie-Robinson-9460813-1-402

Was it the right time for Jackie Robinson to come into Major League Baseball in 1947? Did everyone feel comfortable with it at first? No. Did some or many have to change their locker room behavior and begin to accept a man for being a man, and not a ‘specific color’ man? Yes, they ultimately did. And because of what he brought to the game, he also won the National League MVP only 2 years later in 1949.

Now I know I’ll get some people arguing with me on that comment (Tim Brown for one – who last year on SiriusXM NFL Radio said that to make the comparison was, and I paraphrase – ‘insane’ – he practically lost his mind at the suggestion of comparing the 2 scenarios) because there are those who believe it’s not an apples to apples comparison on equality. There are those who will say (and Tim Brown made this point as he sees it) that they don’t believe people are born gay – ‘no proof’. To Tim Brown, and all of you who may agree with him, I ask: WHY in the world would millions of people (est 9 million in the US) in their right mind CHOOSE a lifestyle that caused them to be disowned by loved ones, bullied, chastised, segregated, looked down upon, and sometimes become the victims of hate crimes? Is that enough proof?  It’s just not a choice. It just is.

Now, I hardly want to give the impression that everyone in the NFL is on the same page as Thomas or Tim Brown – nor do I think that these are bad men, maybe just 2 of some who could use a new pair of eyeglasses out of which to view the world (believe me – these days there are enough ‘bad’ men we are seeing in NFL-related stories and these are not 2 of them). In fact, I do believe there are more players and personnel in and around the NFL that support equality in the NFL locker room. Here are comments from just a few.

And for those reading this, who really haven’t the basis for understanding this subject, I ask you to educate yourself. Watch Giants Wide Receiver Victor Cruz, as he shares the Giants locker room, and some thoughts about adversity with a young New Jersey teen, who came out in Middle School, and faced tremendous bullying and adversity – not an uncommon experience for gay teens struggling to be open with the world about who they are.  READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

So why is this different than any other act of segregation, prejudice or inequality that has been in the spotlight before? Do you have a friend who is gay? Have you ever seriously asked them if it was a choice? Have you ever asked them how they ‘decided’ to become a gay man (and have them laugh in your face at the suggestion they had an epiphany)?

I look at the comment from Thomas again: ‘America’s ready for it’, and I ask – is there any reason WHY the NFL locker room should be any different than a microcosm of America? Should the NFL locker room continue to accept inequality just because it’s comfortable with the norm?

Why shouldn’t leaders like you Terrell Thomas, regardless of religious beliefs, find it within your heart to take a historical stand for equality in the NFL (which can ultimately influence so many other parts of our society that still don’t get it), and join with other players in standing for positive change, and the new norm in the locker room?

My 2 cents.

I’m looking forward to watching the NFL Combine this weekend and observing Michael Sam for what he is really there to do: show that he is a good football player, leader and teammate.

 

Ali

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