This year the Super Bowl teams found themselves in the middle of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender) equality debate.
It seems that this discussion stems from Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo’s vocal support of marriage equality this past election cycle. He said, “It's a matter of fairness. This is why I'm asking Marylanders to join me in supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples." (http://www.freedomtomarry.org/blog/entry/video-maryland-house-begins-debate-on-marriage-bill-today-more-voices-urge)
Yet with progress there is push back.
San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culliver said in an interview: "I don't do the gay guys man... I don't do that. No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do....Can't be with that sweet stuff. Nah...can't be...in the locker room man.” (http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl--report--niners-cb-says-openly-gay-players-would-not-be-welcomed-on-the-team-190346715.html)
And two other 49er players denounced doing an “It Gets Better” video, saying they didn’t know it was against LGBT bullying. (http://boston.barstoolsports.com/m/random-thoughts/the-49ers-made-an-it-gets-better-video-for-gay-kids-only-the-guys-in-it-deny-they-did-it/)
The actions of these three 49ers players are a reminder that there is much work to do when it comes to full LGBT inclusion in our sports institutions. In a broader sense, this indicates that there is sitll a stigma attached to LGBT people being fully out and heterosexual allies speaking out for LGBT equality and inclusion.
Tragically, to this day, the locker room is a place of fear for many LGBT youth and athletes. In high school, I remember dreading going down into the locker room to get ready for PE (Physical Education). I felt unsafe because it was a place I would be freely harassed. And unfortunately my experience is not unique.
The amount of mental and emotional energy LGBT youth and athletes expend enduring bullying, and being forced to stay closeted, could be used to take more AP classes, learn an instrument, or to perfect their sport techniques. I often wonder, how much productivity is lost because of the hatred LGBT people face on a daily basis?
What is promising is that there is burgeoning support from heterosexual professional athletes and coaches. Hudson Taylor Executive Director of Athlete Ally writes:
“ We're seeing more and more NFL players take a stand against homophobia in sports through our organization and we know that support at this level is only going to grow. Athlete Ally's NFL Ambassadors Brendon Ayanbadejo of the AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens, Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings and Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns connect our organization and the NFL, help promote the mission to end homophobia in sports by speaking out to their teams, leagues and fan bases, and encourage their colleagues to join in the effort. It's clear by their involvement and the incredible support they are receiving from NFL fans across the country that discrimination is on the fringe and has absolutely no place in sports." (http://www.athleteally.com/blog/entry/athlete-ally-response-to-homophobic-comments-by-san-francisco-49er)
Taking this discussion back to NY----NY Giants tight-end Matellus Bennett tweeted in response to this Cuillver’s statement: “I don't know why guys even say this stuff. There's definitely at least one or two gay guys on every team. Who cares? If someone can play ball, let em play." (http://www.giants101.com/2013/01/31/new-york-giants-martellus-bennett-theres-definitely-one-or-two-gay-guys-on-every-team/)
Yes, Mr. Bennet, we should let them play. And while we are at it, we should work to create a society where they can play openly without fear of harassment, discrimination, violence, or retribution.
Here’s to the tide changing.
For more information on Athlete ally visit: http://athleteally.org