Nate Jackson played for the Denver Broncos for six years and is currently writing a book about life in the NFL, to be published by Harper Collins. BuzzFeed Sports asked him to weigh in on why there are no openly gay men in the NFL.
Is the NFL ready to accept a gay man into the locker room? Maybe. But as a former NFL player, I can tell you it might not be easy: there’s an ingrained frat-house, borderline (and sometimes not-so-borderline) homophobic culture that will be difficult to change. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but that there will be challenges.
• There’s a great deal of locker room nudity. The showers are communal: multiple dudes crammed into an echoey tile shower room. And there’s often a line waiting for open shower heads, and guys are shimmying past each other naked. One time, the showers were crowded and as I walked past a teammate, we brushed up against each other. No questionable body parts were involved. But we were naked. We both recoiled and didn’t speak to each other for weeks. And locker room discussions invariably involve sex. Sex is what adolescent boys talk about, often crudely, and the NFL is perpetual adolescence. An openly gay man would create an entirely new dynamic in these conversations — ideally, a less crude one.
• Does the gay player want to be a martyr? Because that’s what’ll probably happen once the media finds out. Reporters will be clamoring around the player’s locker asking him all of the uncomfortable questions he doesn’t want to answer. Then they’ll ask his teammates. And everyone will start thinking about things they normally wouldn’t. And words lead to fists. Especially without a strong veteran presence to keep the homophobia in check.
• A locker room is a very diverse work setting in some ways: ethnicity, socio-economic background, home town, marital status, age, etc. And in others it’s very narrow. There are racists, fascists, bigots, losers, Jesus pushers, conspiracy theorists, Republicans, dope smokers, alcoholics, pill poppers, womanizers, hunters, gamblers, grumps and hacks. And they all work together to form a football team. They put aside their personal beliefs about a player and his lifestyle for the good of the football team, which takes precedent. Add gay to that list and I don’t think it matters much, as long as it isn’t, “Hey you guys! I’m GAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” Although that would make for a great football comedy.
• Either way, it would take a perfect situation, on the perfect team, in the perfect city, with the perfect gay dude, to make this work — at least, the first time around. Despite the city’s sexual diversity, neither of the New York teams would work. The New York media wouldn’t be able to help themselves. “So, if you had to say, who do you think is the cutest guy on the team?”
San Francisco seems like a good fit. But it might be too good. The local gay community might embrace the Niners in a way that would make some people — possibly including the player — uncomfortable. Same could go for Oakland, but Raiders fans are a tough, crazy bunch. Probably not a good fit.
Maybe the Patriots could work. Bill Belichik seems like the type of coach who wouldn’t care, as long as the player was kicking ass on the field. But that’s the thing. If he was a marginal player, not a superstar, the distractions he’d create might be more trouble than they were worth in the eyes of the coach. And then when he got cut, every civil rights lawyer in America would be clamoring to represent the player in a civil suit for sexual discrimination. Then it would be up to the player to decide how far to take it. If he bit and decided to sue the NFL or the team that cut him, that would end the openly gay experiment for good.
Ultimately, the gay player would have to be on a team in a city that wasn’t big on social issues. That didn’t care about memes and gossip. It would have to be in a city where football was everything. Where the fans were kind and supportive. And where the media presence was minimal. A team with a cohesive locker room, compassionate veteran leadership, tolerant ownership and a relatively young coaching staff.
And the winner is: The Green Bay Packers. It’s the optimum destination for an openly gay player. I wonder what Vince Lombardi would think.