After Larry Johnson used a gay slur twice in as many days, the Kansas City Chiefs reacted quickly with a two week suspension. This morning, The Star’s Randy Covitz takes a look at a league perceived as homophobic and how their response will show how serious they are about becoming more accepting toward gays.
The NFL, like other pro sports leagues, is perceived as homophobic. Of the more than 20,000 athletes who have played in the NFL, less than a handful have identified themselves as gay — David Kopay was the first in 1975, followed by Roy Simmons and Esera Tuaolo — and only after their careers had ended.
Now the image-conscious NFL — which fines players for wearing droopy socks or the wrong-colored chin straps, is frightened by the prospect of Rush Limbaugh as an owner and enforces a rigid personal conduct policy — is confronted with how to deal with gay-bashing.
“Some of these athletes and some of these coaches and front-office people need to get with the times,” said Tuaolo, a defensive lineman during 1991-99 with five teams. “We’re coming to a time when nobody is going to tolerate any of this bull.
“It would be amazing if all these gay athletes would come out, and they would see how many athletes who are gay are premier players. But we live in a society that doesn’t accept us for who we are. We live in a society that views the word ‘gay’ or gay person as weak.”
Tuaolo, who was born in Hawaii and was a second-round draft choice by Green Bay after he played collegiately at Oregon State, said there are more than 10 homosexual players in the league today.
Because there are 1,696 players on the active rosters of the 32 teams, it is statistically probable that Tuaolo may be underestimating the number of gay NFL players.
“It is inconceivable that none of those 1,696 players are gay, particularly because we know there have been gay players in the NFL, gay players who have played in the Super Bowl,” said Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, a sports Web site geared to the gay community.
“They came out of the closet afterward. I know gay collegiate players. It’s likely Larry Johnson has a teammate who is gay. It’s not just people who play. It’s people in the front offices … and it’s the fans. The Chiefs have gay fans. They have gay fans living in Kansas City, and it’s not OK for Larry Johnson to say these things… He was demeaning gay people in trying to demean somebody else.”
Inconceivable is the right word. Just do the math. There is almost no way that every NFL team doesn’t have at least one gay player. Macho football players don’t want to talk about it, but it’s just not possible for there to be that many people and not have everyone represented.
To me, the only thing that is more disappointing than Larry Johnson’s ignorance is the climate across all of the major sports making it so difficult for an athlete to come out of the closet.