Ray Edwards, Takeo Spikes, George Wilson, Taiwan Jones and Kamerion Wimbley share their thoughts on a potential out athlete
With the NFL season kicking off, we thought it was the perfect time to share the thoughts of five more current NFL players who expressed positive perspectives on having an openly gay teammate. I caught up with all of these players at the ESPYs here in Los Angeles in July, where I spoke to over a dozen current and former professional athletes.
There were two main questions I asked these guys. The first was, simply, how they would feel if one of their teammates came out of the closet this season.
Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson reflected what we’ve heard from many athletes: Football’s a brutal sport, and if you go through the gauntlet of training camp and the regular season, you’re part of the family. As the well-known project says, "If you can play, you can play."
“At the end of the day, when you’re one of the guys in the locker room, you’re one of the guys,” Wilson said. “As long as you can stay productive and get the job done, you’re still gonna remain one of the guys. At the end of the day, your personal preferences have nothing to do with your productivity when it comes to the playing field.”
Also like many other NFL players we’ve spoken to, Wilson said he has friends and associates who are gay. He even has a cousin who’s a lesbian.
“We don’t treat her any different. We love and accept her with open arms.”
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards said he’s never had a gay teammate that he knew of, but it wouldn’t matter to him if he did.
“If I did, I’d be very open to it,” Edwards said. “Everybody has what they want to do. As long as they don’t [hit on] me, I’m fine. We can hang out, have fun. We can kick it. I actually have a lot of friends who are gay. It’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem with it at all.”
San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes was an interesting case. He had every opportunity to not talk with me about this issue. He’d been standing next to me for two hours, and when I asked him to chat with me he knew what issues I wanted to discuss. As his handler was trying to pull him away from me, he ignored her and said he would be happy to answer a couple questions.
“Actually, I would like it better [if a teammate came out],” Spikes said. “Because I like to be transparent. If it’s something that’s close to your heart, everybody should be transparent about it. You may not agree with what everybody does in life, but you can respect it. And as long as you can respect everybody’s individual beliefs, then you can move on down the line. They know where you stand, and you know where they stand. And at the end of the day, that’s all you have is respect.”
Oakland Raiders running back Taiwan Jones, entering his second year in the League, told Outsports he has a cousin who’s gay.
“It wouldn’t affect me,” Jones said. “As long as he respects me and my space, I have nothing against gay people or what he does in his life and his private time.”
Tennessee Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley is one of the few pro athletes we’ve spoken to in the last year who said he has no openly gay friends or family members. Still, the former Seminole, who’s also played in the NFL for Oakland and Cleveland, said a gay teammate should come out. And he has an old flame to thank for his perspective.
“I would feel like [coming out] is the right thing to do,” Wimbley said. “He’s letting everybody know his sexuality. He doesn’t have to hide and feel like he has to be somebody else. He can be himself. My ex-girlfriend made me understand how being gay is OK. It’s better for people to be able to be themselves than have to hide in a shell all their lives.”
The media backwards on the issue
This year alone we’ve spoken to two dozen current and former NFL players. To varying degrees, each one of them has expressed an understanding or embracing of a potential gay teammate, many of them sharing about gay people they have in their lives.
Yet the mainstream media continues to portray these very same athletes as dumb, homophobic jocks. When they express gay-positive sentiments, the “experts” often say that’s great, “but we all know it won’t really work in an NFL locker room.” I asked each of the players about this disconnect.
“We play a masculine game, where guys are supposed to be a ‘gladiator,’” Wilson said. “They just look at us as sometimes not being human beings, understanding that we have feelings, we have emotions with our family members sometimes who practice that lifestyle. But at the end of the day, you treat those people based on your personal experiences with them.”
Wimbley said times have changed and NFL players changed along with them, even if the media hasn’t caught up to them yet.
“I would agree with the media in the past, we were [homophobic],” Wimbley said. “But things are evolving. A lot of athletes are starting to understand that people are people and you are who you are, and it’s best for you to be yourself at all times.”
Edwards said the media’s misrepresentation of NFL players on this issue comes from the stereotypes of gay men as weak and the NFL as the antithesis of weakness.
“Probably because of our nature, because we go out there and beat up on each other every Sunday, every Monday,” Edwards said. “So I think that’s just where it comes from. We’re supposed to be the manly men, I guess.”
Jones also blamed media-driven stereotypes for the misrepresentation of NFL players on these issues.
“It probably just comes from the stereotype of jocks and what you see on TV,” Jones said. “Most people think we can be jerks at times. But for the most part, I never knew anybody that made fun of gay people or did anything like that.”
Edwards echoed the frustration Trent Richardson shared with us in May about the disconnect in the media between NFL athletes’ education and their purported attitudes.
“We go to school like everybody else,” Edwards said. “We have to go to school for three years, so we can’t be too dumb.”
PHOTO: August 16, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards (93) during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Georgia Dome. The Bengals beat the Falcons 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
PHOTO: Aug 9, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes (51) jogs onto the field after halftime against the Green Bay Packers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE