The former Falcon, Charger and Jet thinks athletes are more gay-friendly than you think
By Cyd Zeigler
When I saw former NFL OT Brett Miller at Here Lounge in West Hollywood back in June, I wondered if I might not be looking at the next former NFL player to come out. Nope. Miller is straight as an arrow, with two kids and a gorgeous girlfriend in TV producer and casting director Katie MacIntosh.
Still, I wondered why Miller, who at 6-foot-7 stands out in a crowd, was at a party for the uber-gay Great Los Angeles Scavenger Hunt in a gay bar. Talking with him in the following months answered that quickly: This former NFL player is as gay-friendly as they come, and he thinks the average professional athlete is a lot more gay-friendly than you think.
Outsports: When I saw you a couple months ago, you seemed pretty comfortable around gay people.
Brett Miller: People have a preconceived notion because of your sexual orientation that that makes you not normal. I’ve just never gotten that. I’ve just never had a problem with someone’s sexual orientation. If they’re brave enough to be true to themselves, everyone else should just step off and leave them alone.
Outsports: How often would you hear words like “fag” and “queer” in the NFL? Were these part of the lexicon?
Miller: When I would hear those words, it wasn’t like they were directed to do damage. It was more just something to say to express frustration. It wasn’t meant to be slanderous. Your ability to articulate your thoughts when you’re mad goes out the window.
Outsports: Do you think if they knew somebody was gay in the locker room, would they still use those words?
Miller: Probably. An NFL locker room is a tough room. You have 50-plus guys with big egos who are used to not letting anyone get over on them. I think the only reason it would be used would be to see if they can get to him. It wouldn’t be to belittle them or cut them down. The perception is that professional athletes would be tremendously homophobic. I don’t think they are. They just call people on what they see. And if you don’t step up, that’s when they pounce.
Outsports: Years ago, Sterling Sharpe said an openly gay player wouldn’t make it to his next game because his teammates would give him a season-ending injury in practice.
Miller: That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’ve heard some stupid things. Somebody has some huge insecurities to say something like that.
Outsports: That is what he said, and the mainstream media likes to trot out that quote when this issue comes up.
Miller: You can’t label all of us because of one stupid-ass comment. I don’t think that’s the belief system of the guys I hung out with and went shoulder-to-shoulder with. The guys I know wouldn’t purposely injure a teammate or an opposing player for any reason. You don’t take away somebody’s livelihood because you’re pissed off at them. And if you’re of that mindset, you don’t belong in the League.
Outsports: Why do you think no one has come out while playing in the NFL?
Miller: That’s a good question, and I have to be honest, I don’t have direct knowledge of anyone I ever played with being gay. I heard rumors of a couple guys, and they didn’t go out of their way to dispute it. It’s a pretty diverse group of guys. You have guys from all religions, all races, all parts of the country and in some cases different parts of the world. You have philosophical differences, you have ethnic differences, you have belief differences. It’s a little microcosm that’s separated from the rest of the world. It’s a high-pressure situation every day, and I’d think the last thing somebody would be thinking about would be someone’s sexual orientation. Maybe that’s because it’s never been a big deal to me. If you get on the field with me and you do your job and I can depend on you, I don’t care.
Outsports: Do you think having a lesbian sister has changed your perspective on the issue?
Miller: No. I think it was the way I was raised. I learned tolerance and equality from my parents. And I’m not saying my Dad liked to give everyone a second chance. Quite the opposite. But he was of the mind that if somebody is a good person and they’re honest and they try to keep their word and they’re not deceitful, those are the qualities in people you tend to gravitate toward. It doesn’t matter what race they are or their sexual orientation or their religion. It all really comes down to what kind of person they are.
You know, in the mid-‘90s I did the AIDS Ride. My girlfriend was doing it, and she wanted a training partner. And I thought, that’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate, and I have two daughters. And I thought it was a worthwhile cause.
Outsports: So your sister coming out wasn’t an issue for you and your family?
Miller: It did cause some waves in the family. But it was discussed and dealt with and she is well-accepted and well-respected. I think it was a shock to my parents, and my mom in particular. People who come out make the choice to come out, and the family has to make the choice to accept them or leave them. But after the initial shock wears off, unless someone’s a murderer or a rapist, you have to accept them for who they are.
Outsports: How would you feel if one of your daughters were gay?
Miller: I think what would bother me is what I know from people I know and my sister, that it does make some things more difficult in society. It’s hard enough to get ahead in the world if you are “conforming,” but when you’re outside the norms it’s more difficult. In the last five years it’s probably become less so, but it is still hard. It wouldn’t change my opinion of them at all or my love for them. My two girls are tremendous, stellar people. They try to do the right thing. That’s what I care about, not their sexual orientation. It would complicate their lives, and that’s an unfortunate fact, but it wouldn’t change my love for them.
Outsports: What were your feelings on Proposition 8?
Miller: I cannot stand big government. The government should keep their noses out of the people’s business. I really think there are about 10 million things that are more important than telling someone who they can and cannot marry. I don’t get it. It’s the stupidest controversy.
Outsports: Do you understand where it comes from?
Miller: It probably comes from a political faction that has a zealous belief that it’s against God’s law for gay people to marry each other. But you know what? Religion was mostly created to control people and make money. We don’t have enough time to talk about my beliefs on religion. God must have some sense of humor to make human beings and then give them Ten Commandments they can’t do, and it’s the 10 things they want to do most. It’s about being a good person, not quoting the Bible.
Outsports: Do you have any special memories of your football-playing days?
Miller: The last preseason game of my rookie year, I had to have a great game to make the team. And after that game, I knew 100% that I had made it. Training camp was different back then. It was brutal, it was long, and it was hot. You had to really love what you were doing. I was a fifth-round pick in 1983 and I got $90k to sign and $60k per year. Salaries are 10 times bigger now.
It’s also a rush to have 80,000 people in the stands cheering for you. Standing on the sidelines before the game and they play the national anthem, it’s an unbeatable feeling. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Outsports: Did you like college football or NFL more?
Miller: There are pluses and minuses to both. It’s tough. There is camaraderie and competition at both levels. You have to perform every day in the NFL. In college, you can have an off day. In college, there might be three guys who are at your level. In the NFL, the guys sitting on the bench are out-of-control good football players. Both experiences were fantastic, but I would trade a few of my years playing in the NFL for a Super Bowl ring.
Outsports: How close did you get?
Miller: Playoffs. We lost a wild card game. Didn’t even sniff it. Those guys who have three or four rings, you have no idea what forces have to converge for that. To have that ring, it’s such a symbol of achievement.
Outsports: The Gay Bowl is in Phoenix, Oct. 7-10. What advice would you give the players who are trying to win that tournament?
Miller: You have to have the game plan down so you don’t have to think while you’re on the field. You have to be prepared mentally. Classroom-prepared. The physicality of it is part of the game, but we spent way more time in the classroom than we did on the field.
Brett Miller spent 10 years in the NFL and played for the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets. Since retiring from the League in 1992, he has been a sportscaster and actor. You can learn more about Brett Miller at his Web site.