Mike Freeman, a writer for CBS Sportsline, pens a terrific piece about a panel last week on gays in the NFL. The event was held in New York as part of Gay Bowl VII, the gay flag football championships, and featured former NFL players Dave Kopay and Esera Tuaolo, Jackie Lepow, a lesbian who works for the New York Giants, and Freeman. I was the moderator. Freeman writes:
As far as I'm concerned Tuaolo, Kopay and Lepow, and others like them, are civil rights heroes -- nothing more, nothing less.
The NFL was invited to the panel talk, but declined to send a representative. Despite the event taking place in the media capital of the world, there was almost no press coverage.
What made this forum so interesting were the stories. Many were hopeful. Kopay and Tuaolo were optimistic about the future, yet it is clear the NFL and other major sports are in no way ready for an openly gay athlete and might not be for decades.
Freeman also focused on the comments from a former recent NFL player in the audience who told about the tremendous homophobia in the locker room and why he stayed closeted. (This man did play with a team in the Gay Bowl). The player was warned by teammates to stay away from another player who was suspected to be gay:
So that was the interesting paradox: A group of prejudiced NFL players were warning a closeted gay man about another gay man who might or might not have been gay.
What the man said next was the most stunning part of his statement. He took the advice of the players and despite being gay, reluctantly played their game, and stayed away from the wide receiver others on the team were apparently isolating.
The consensus in the room at the panel was that the NFL was still far from ready to accept a gay player, though Kopay and Tuaolo expressed hope that wider societal acceptance of gays will make it possible sooner than later. We can only hope. --Jim Buzinski