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'Gay' Not Allowed On NFL Jerseys

Online NFL shop bans many words, including 'gay,' on their customized jerseys

Story from March 1, 2005

To the NFL it's naughty to be "GAY" but OK to be "BIN LADEN." You can be a "NAZI" but not a "LESBIAN." Even a gay man with the last name Gay can't buy a jersey.

This rather bizarre conclusion is reached when trying to order a personalized jersey from the NFL Shop, the online merchandise site run by the league. Anyone trying to buy a jersey with the single word "GAY" or "LESBIAN" or "GAY PRIDE" on the back gets a rejection message that states: "This field should not contain a naughty word."

The wording was changed in the hours since this article first appeared and the NFL contacted. Now when you enter "GAY" and try to checkout you get the following: "The personalization entered cannot be accepted." This wording is no less offensive than "naughty" and doesn't change the issue. Especially when you can buy jerseys with "FAG" or "DYKE" or "HITLER" on them.

Someone running the NFL's website decided certain terms were "naughty," including a declaration of sexual orientation. But "BIN LADEN," "TERRORIST," or "AL QAEDA" are all accepted; just have your credit card handy (personalized jerseys start at $79.99).

This story first appeared in Rex Wockner's column on 365gay.com. It seems that an LSU professor, Leigh Clemons, wanted to buy a jersey with the name of one of her former students. The student happened to be Randall Gay, a defensive back for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Her attempts were initially rejected.

"The NFL Shop website said that they weren't allowed to print 'naughty words' on jerseys," Clemons says, according to Wockner. "I had to call the shop and go through three levels of bureaucracy to get the jersey."

"Clemons said site employees lifted the block on the word 'gay' just long enough for her to place her order then immediately reinstated it," the story said.

After our article appeared, I received an e-mail from Barry Gay of Raleigh, N.C., who sent us the exchange he had with the NFL Shop:

Barry Gay to the NFL: Just wanted to let you know how profoundly offended I am to learn that the NFL thinks my last name is a 'naughty' word. When I looked into ordering a personalized jersey online, I entered my last name, which is 'Gay,' in the appropriate box and was instructed not to use a "naughty" word. To add insult to injury, I just so happen to be gay, so it was all the more hurtful to learn that the NFL believes that God and nature conspired to make me naughty. If nothing else, I have experienced firsthand how frighteningly homophobic -- and stupid -- the NFL remains even in the 21st century. Thanks for helping me lose all respect for the NFL organization.

PS -- While I was trying to complete [the NFL's] name and address field below [to complain], you guys slapped me in the face yet again by alerting me that "You can't use that word or phrase in the last name field" when I entered my last name in that field!!! I actually had to change the spelling (by adding an "e" to the end of Gay) just to get your form to accept my entry. Just where in the world did you manage to find the small-minded idiots who decided for you which words are naughty and which words are nice?

Barry Gay
Raleigh, NC

Response from a customer service rep: "Your last name is not considered "naughty." I realize it is a legitimate last name. However, the NFL reserves all rights to what can and can not be printed on one of it's Jersey's [sic]. Unfortunately, it is the few that have made this step necessary and have made it bad for the majority of people who do not abuse the opportunity to have an item personalized.

"In the few cases that may arise with someone abusing certain words or names the NFL does not wish to be associated with any derogatory use of language or words.

"I am sorry for the inconvenience. Unfortunately there is no way around this issue."

"No way around this issue?" Give me a break. How about creating a better filter? How about concluding there is nothing "naughty" about the word gay? This ban is both offensive and silly and unique to the NFL. I went to the online sites for both the NBA and Major League Baseball and both accepted "GAY" with no problem.

One would have thought that the LSU professor's complaint would make the NFL webmasters realize how stupid it was to ban certain words that were anything but naughty. In addition, there is a player whose last name is Gay, which makes the prohibition doubly absurd. It seems that Randall Gay fans are SOL.

What's even dumber is how ineffective the word screening program actually is. Adding an "S" to most any word and it suddenly is acceptable ("GAYS," "COCKS"). Or include "GAY" as part of many compound words is also OK. A reader discovered the list of 1,121 banned words for jerseys. Some of them are doozies (there are 54 variations of "Ass" alone) and you wonder you took the time to compile them or had such a vivid imagination.