Who is he? That is the question that many in the National Football League (NFL) community are asking themselves.
This past week rumours surfaced of a current NFL player coming out as homosexual. As a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and lifelong fan of North American football I welcome this news. However, something must be made clear: this man will not be a “gay Jackie Robinson.” His choice will make him a different figure all together.
Make no mistake: no one should be coerced to come out before they are ready. Perhaps this individual is not ready. Perhaps they have wanted to come out since they put on their first helmet back in high school. It is difficult to say. What I do know is reports of his impending decision are already having a positive impact. A day ago Kwame Harris (pictured), a former offensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, chose to publicly reveal his homosexuality. He stated in an interview with an American media outlet, “I want people, whether gay athletes, athletes still in the closet, or youths who are not sure what sexuality is to know those are common feelings. Don’t feel alone in having them.”
Harris retired in 2008. He joins the likes of John Amaechi, the former National Basketball Association forward, and Billy Bean, the former Major League Baseball outfielder, as athletes who understandably could not muster the courage to publicly come out during their playing days.
I want to make a fact clear: I do not believe LGBT athletes have some kind of inherent responsibility to come out for the good of the community. However, I do believe they are providing a service for the greater good of their community. They are providing a service and should be commended for their selflessness.
That said, my opinion is not the only in existence. Chris Clemons, the Seattle Seahawks defensive end, has offered a sign of things to come should the athlete in question choose to come forward. Clemons took to Twitter to air his concerns. With statements such as, “Who on Gods [sic] earth is this person saying he’s coming out of the closet in the NFL?” and “If you didn’t do it when you were in high school or college then why wait til your [sic] in the NFL? Whoever he is he didn’t just start”, it is not difficult to understand why this man has most likely spent a lifetime concealing his true identity.
I have little doubt this man is fully aware of what awaits him as the first openly gay athlete to play in a major professional league. But he will not go it alone. A number of current NFL players have become leaders in fighting for equal rights. Brendon Ayanbadejo, former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, and Chris Kluwe, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, have proven to be leaders in the area. Whoever this man is, he will have allies.
I truly do hope he feels he can come forward. His coming out will be a landmark victory for those that believe in equality and for those athletes still in high school who are afraid to enter their team locker room for fear of some ill thought action revealing who they really are.
More than that, however, it will be a message to the United States of America. At a time when Americans are anxiously awaiting a decision by their Supreme Court on marriage equality, the coming out of a major athlete could swing public support in the direction of those Americans supporting marriage equality. Coming out will always be a personal decision, but for a high profile individual there is an onus to take a role of leadership. He, whoever he is, will have to stand before the world and let fellow LGBT athletes know that, while he is the first, he will not be the last.
Hopefully this serves as merely the first in a long-line of political and societal victories.
So, who is he?
I don’t know. But I welcome his appearance.