Mike Freeman, a longtime NFL reporter now with Bleacher Report, writes that a gay NFL player was ready to come out this offseason but a team that offered him a contract backed out fearing the media and public attention. Freeman does not name the player, nor does he know who the player is, and says his reporting relies on a dozen anonymous sources inside and outside the league.
It was early this past spring when a closeted gay player, who was a free agent, reached out to a small group of friends and told them about his sexual orientation. The friends, both current and former players, and others with NFL connections, then contacted a handful of teams to gauge their interest in the player and their comfort with that player talking openly about being gay if they signed him.
A number of teams contacted passed. The player was told they didn't have a need at his position. The player told a recently retired player he believed the teams declined because they feared the attention a gay NFL player would receive from the public and media.
Yet some teams were interested, and one team actually said yes. It wasn't a lukewarm yes or a conditional one. It was a definite yes.
The team apparently did not care that the player was gay and was going to come out publicly. But, according to Freeman's sources, as soon as Jason Collins came out on April 29, the team that offered this player the contract got cold feet:
The NFL player told a former teammate he believes the Collins story, and others about gay athletes around that time, caused the team to withdraw its offer. It was afraid of the attention. Now, six months and countless injuries to active players later, neither he nor the other player has signed with a team.
The "other player" mentioned above is another gay player who was ready to sign with a team (and might have been ready to come out) but whose deal also fell apart. Freeman describes him as "a fairly well-known defensive back. He drew interest from at least one AFC team that knew he was gay. Coaches on the team were asked if they were OK with a gay player. They were. Some defensive players were casually queried, according to an official on the team. All of the players asked said it wouldn't be an issue. They were not told the name of the player." This player allegedly wanted too much money and remains unsigned.
The report concludes with one executive saying the NFL is three to five years away from having an openly gay player. Freeman writes:
All sources close to the players were asked one question repeatedly: Why don't the players just come out?
The answer was the same-fear. If they come out before signing, they won't get signed. While the players want to help push change, they also want to play football. Some will point to how Collins remains unemployed post-announcement.
Here is my biggest problem with this story: Freeman does not know the name of the player. Which means he has to rely totally on the veracity of his sources, none of whom he identifies. This really hurts the credibility of the article. Having been burned myself wrongly trusting that a gay athlete was who he said he was, I would not have felt comfortable writing a story like Freeman's unless I knew the name of the player he was writing about. If that meant no story, than so be it.
What he writes certainly sounds plausible and the reasons he details in the long story jibe with what we've been writing about since Outsports started. The fear of the unknown is certainly there, not only with closeted players, but with teams, sensitive about the public fallout. None of that is new.
On the other hand, I find it strange that the hubbub surrounding Jason Collins would have caused an NFL team to withdraw its offer to a player it felt could help them.
The attention Collins got was almost universally positive (including President Obama praising Collins in a news conference). Having an out NFL player would have also been received positively, and there would have plenty of time for the media to obsess about the story before training camp opened. The Collins story basically died within two weeks (as Outsports web traffic can attest to).
The bottom line is that there was a gay NFL player (or maybe two) ready to come out. Or maybe not.
More from Outsports:
- Nike fully endorses same-sex marriage, commits nearly $300k to their Equality PAC
- Fallon Fox responds to Ashlee Evans-Smith, who says trans fighters should be barred from women's MMA
- Ex-Purdue football player Dorien Bryant on being gay and teammates who weren't exactly straight
- Miami Dolphins security tells Speedo-clad fans to put their pants on
- Virginia high school state tennis champ Mikey Drougas comes out to school on Twitter