It's tough to conjur up two NFL teams that are more gay-friendly than the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. As Corey Johnson tweeted, I was thrilled to see two teams with a growing support for gay equality represent the NFL in the Super Bowl.
For one, both Massachusetts and New York have legalized same-sex marriage: Massachusetts was the first and New York is the latest. Yes, the Giants play in New Jersey.. .but New Jersey is within reach of a veto-proof vote to legalize marriage (and Gov. Chris Christie has not ruled out signing the bill anyway). A lesson to Wisconsin, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado and all the other states looking to send their teams to the Super Bowl: Legalize gay marriage and you've got a shot.
The Giants have a long history of gay-friendliness. Yes, former Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey was a raging asshole when he said he wouldn't have a gay teammate. But the Giants later shipped him out.
Pat Hanlon, the Giants' spokesperson, has always been incredibly good to me and welcoming to Outsports. When the Gay Superbowl was in New York, he worked with his team to send an out lesbian staffer to a panel discussion about being gay in the NFL. When I wanted to take my football team to a Giants training camp practice to see how Super Bowl champs prepare for their next season, Hanlon got us VIP passes to the practice and let us run around the field and play with some of their team balls when the team was done. He has also preached to me that the Giants are an all-inclusive family that does not care about sexual orientation.
For the Patriots, owner Robert Kraft is incredibly gay-friendly. Last year he spoke at an LGBT Executive Networking Night that got lots of publicity. What's interesting, however, is that Kraft didn't want the media at the event: He didn't want it to be a publicity stunt, he wanted to have a real conversation with the people in attendance. While that meant Outsports couldn't go, I thought it was rather classy.
Out Boston Herald columnist Steve Buckley has told me over and over how gay-friendly the Patriots organization is. He relayed this fun story about Kraft to the Good Men Project last year:
I will tell you a funny story that I haven’t told anybody. If the locker room is open to the media from 10:15 to 11:00, that means at 11:00 they clear people out of there. You’re not supposed to be there.
So on one particular day at like four minutes to 11:00, I walked toward the far end of the locker room. As it’s coming up on 11:00, [Patriots Owner] Robert [Kraft] saw me and came walking in. And I’ve known Robert for 20 years. He said, “Steve, how are you? I read the piece. It’s great.” We were just making idle chitchat.
Now I’m aware that it’s 11:00 and the locker room is supposed to be closed to media—and so now it’s 11:01. It’s 11:02. … So finally I took it upon myself, and Robert was saying, “Is everything OK? Is everything going great?” I said, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” And I said to him, “But I can’t be in here anymore.” And he says, “Who told you that? You come in here.” I said, “No, no, no, no. You misunderstood. I can’t be in here now it’s 11:00. It’s closed to the media.”
He thought that I was saying, like, I can’t come in here anymore. I’ve been told “You are not allowed here anymore.” And Robert was all up in arms and ready to champion my cause. That was one of the funnier moments during this whole thing. And it was so sweet for Robert to want to stick up for me. That was really cool.
When I wrote a piece for Boston Spirit Magazine several years ago about whether a pro athlete could come out in Boston-area sports, everyone I talked to said the same thing: They could on the Patriots because of the attitude of the team and the leaders in the locker room.
Then there was this that gay flag football player Peter Goulet mentioned below:
In addition it was the New England Patriots who became the very first NFL team to become a sponsor of GAY BOWL. It was Gay Bowl III in Boston , when the New England Patriots sent Andre Tippett to the opening ceremonies to make opening remarks to all the players at Gay Bowl on behalf of the New England Patriots and tossed the coin at the ceremonial coin toss. Go PATRIOTS!
Patriots safety Brett Lockett, who is on injured reserve, has appeared in the NOH8 campaign and openly supports gay marriage.
And consider this little tidbit. The two teams that also made it to the Conference Championships (49ers and Ravens) are from states that did allow same-sex marriage and one where it has a real shot of passing; the Niners are one of the very few teams that offers same-sex domestic partner benefits to employees.
No matter who wins the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, rest assured it will be a gay-friendly organization. In a league that has shown marginal interest in embracing gay fans and gay athletes, it's nice to see two teams that do.