NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress says that rumors about his then-Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Kordell Stewart's being gay affected the quarterback's play. From Pro Football Talk:
“It had to be tough on him personally,” Burress told Tim Benz of Pittsburgh radio station 105.9. “I didn’t call him gay or anything like that. . . . I think that’s one of the reasons why he really couldn’t become the player that he wanted to be. . . . It has to play on you mentally a little bit.”
Burress, now with the New York Giants, discusses Stewart (who retired in 2005) and the gay rumors is his new book, "Giant: The Road to the Super Bowl."
“People were talking about [Kordell] being gay,” Burress writes in Chapter 5. “The players heard that, but we never talked about it. I don’t know if Kordell is gay or not. It was none of our business. If ever we would have talked about it, it would have made everybody uncomfortable. If some player was gay, I don’t think he could come out while he was still playing. It would be real hard. It would mess a team up mentally and it wouldn’t be good for that person.”
Burress also said that the rumors caused Stewart to withdraw from teammates. “He had to watch the people that he hung around with. Just hanging out with your friends, or your boys and your cousins, all those things come to the surface. I think he just insulated himself after a while.”
Burress' comments reflect the widely accepted view that it would be very hard for a player to come out. What is interesting is how reports of Stewart's sexuality made it into the mainstream media in the late 1990s, at a time when the subject of gays in sports was still little discussed. Stewart never was able to take a team to the Super Bowl and we'll never be sure whether he simply wasn't good enough of whether the rumors proved to be too much of a distraction. -Jim Buzinski
Hat tip to Michael David Smith at AOL Fanhouse.