You wouldn’t know it, but players and teams alike are giving the silent treatment to the constantly growing gay athlete debate. Just yesterday, the Vikings released Punter Chris Kluwe. Kluwe is known more for his wit, social media postings, and antics rather than his football abilities.
More importantly, Kluwe was at the forefront of controversial issues, including gay rights. While the move was mostly based on Minnesota’s need to sign a younger, cheaper option at the position, Kluwe’s release will soon say a lot about some NFL teams. Kluwe, 32, is a more than capable punter and surely would be a good pick for some teams. However, the interest, or lack of interest from some teams will tell the true story regarding the NFL’s perspective on the gay rights/gay athletes issue.
Like Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo is not gay, but is an outspoken advocate for gay rights. Also like Kluwe, Ayanbadejo, 36, is currently without a job in the NFL. After his release in early April, Ayanbadejo accused the Ravens of releasing him due to his outspoken view on gay rights rather than for football reasons. Though, he has since retracted that accusation.
What is truly interesting is that both Kluwe and Ayanbadejo are at the tail-ends of their careers. Kluwe, as a punter, can probably go well into his late-30’s as a player in the league. However, he’s not the most talented punter out there, especially at his age. In a league where punters and kickers have no leverage whatsoever, Kluwe is not on any team’s immediate radar.
Former Jets and Cardinals Safety Kerry Rhodes has been accused of being gay in recent reports by his ex-lover. Rhodes has vehemently denied any accusations against him of being gay.
As an eight-year veteran who is not at the tail-end of his career, Rhodes, like Kluwe and Ayanbadejo, is also currently looking for work in the NFL.
He will find a job, as will Kluwe and Ayanbadejo. But, the two eccentric advocates for gay rights and the player accused of being gay are sadly not players known more for their football talents. They do not evoke media presence like that of Tom Brady, Arian Foster, Peyton Manning, or an up-and-coming league star like Robert Griffin III.
Where are those types of players in this gay rights debate? I understand these players don’t want to ruffle feathers, lose a paycheck, or even worse, get cut. However, players like Manning and Brady have all the leverage in the world. Though a statement regarding their views on gay rights would invite sickening media coverage, it should not affect their paychecks or leverage as they are some of the best football players in the NFL.
Simply put, guys like Manning and Brady are leaders of their respected teams. A statement about this controversial issue would most likely disrupt a locker room, cause some tension, and could ultimately impact the results of a season.
The NFL wants to avoid controversy. It’s just good business. But the NFL has a responsibility to its customers, most of whom grew up, or are growing up, watching the sport. When the league has that type of impact, they have a responsibility with it.
Winning is all that matters in the NFL, right? However, when society moves past this issue and wonders why the NFL stood idle, the NFL will have some questions to answer. When the ever-growing sport employs as many role models to the youth of America as it does today, what message is the NFL sending across?
Right now, that message is blank and is being avoided to save face. Is that the message you want to be sent? At what point is a NFL athlete allowed to say something about gay rights or gay athletes without repercussions from a NFL team? At what point will a top NFL athlete say something and face the issue at hand?
Unlike the NFL, the NHL has endorsed gay rights. Although the NHL is not as popular and in the news as often as the NFL, they have no problem making a statement. Just one year ago at a Ottawa Senators game, two gay women stood on the ice before the game. Christina, a Senators fan, asked Alicia, a Maple Leafs fan, to marry her in front of a packed Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. The Ottawa Senators mascot then held up a sign that said “She said yes.” The place erupted in cheers.
The world is changing, and the NFL is trying to remain silent. Plenty of athletes made simple 140 character statements on Twitter after NBA big-man Jason Collins announced he was gay in late April. Most supported Collins, while others (like Steelers WR Mike Wallace) stated their displeasure:
Who in the NFL has the guts to make the change? Obviously some players do, but where is the athlete in his prime who is willing to make a stand? Kluwe and Ayanbadejo are trying, and although they should be applauded for their efforts, they are not going to change the landscape of politics in the game by themselves.
NFL athletes and teams are trying hard to keep their mouth shut. They are scared to say anything. They are protective of their image. Sooner or later, their silence will impact their image. Hopefully, they’re not too late to change that.