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Interview: LeRoy Butler on gays, the church and Reggie White

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"That pastor was talking to me like I was the devil.” The former Green Bay Packer talks about being fired from a church speaking gig for supporting a gay athlete

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Today former Green Bay Packer LeRoy Butler tweeted that he was fired from a speaking gig at a church because he sent a supportive message to openly gay NBA player Jason Collins. I caught up with Butler, who could not have been more kind or more entertaining.

We hear how the "old guard" in football is so homophobic. My experience talking with them has been the opposite. Butler is just the latest to show that these guys in their 40s and 50s can be as accepting as anyone else.

It was less of an interview than a couple questions and Butler talked. I listened. Here were the highlights:

On being told he cannot speak at a church because of his tweet supporting Jason Collins:

“I was shocked. It caught me off guard. They got right into it with the first phone call. She said, ‘did you congratulate some young man about being gay?’ I said yeah. And she said, ‘then we can’t have you speaking to our kids. The pastor doesn’t think that’s a good idea.’”

On the phone call from the pastor, who had hired him to speak at least once before:

“He started giving me all these scriptures about God looking down on gay people. I said, ‘look, if you want to believe that, this is me coming to tell my story to these kids.’ There’s only one thing my mom told me. Only God judges, not you. You can pick and choose what you want from the Bible but don’t tell me about it.

“It really bothered me that he was quoting all of these scriptures to make me feel bad. I said, ‘No, I stand as a man for the little kids who are hiding somewhere and need someone to speak for them.’ I went to church every Sunday growing up. And I love everybody. We may agree to disagree, and the church says one thing, and we can agree to disagree. But man, that pastor was talking to me like I was the devil.”

“Sometimes religious people think they’re better than everybody else, and that bothers me. I’m suddenly ignorant because I congratulated Jason.”

On the immediate reaction from the public:

“I’m getting everything short of death threats. People are killing me. ‘How could you? I’ll never be a Packer fan.’ I’m like, dude, just calm down.

“But there are also a lot more fans coming to my defense. We live in a world where some people think no woman and no gay man would ever be in charge. But my mom taught me may the best person win, and when the lights go out that’s your business.”

On not releasing the name of the church:

“That’s what I talked to my mom about, should I release the name of the church? And she said no, somebody might go spray-paint the church. She said the important thing is the message. But she said she was proud of me for saying something. I could have just gone to bed and nobody would have known.”

On playing with a gay teammate:

“I played 12 years in the NFL. If there was a gay man in the locker room, all I can care about was if you could run and jump and help me win games. I don’t care who he brings to the ring ceremony.”

“I respect that there are guys who will be uncomfortable with it. But when it comes to discriminating against someone, as a black guy I gotta understand that. You’re gonna treat me bad because I congratulated a young man?”

“NFL players have told me they won’t play with a gay player. But if the top quarterback of the next 10 years comes out in his prime, you’re gonna accept it because he can throw for 4,500 yards and take you to the Super Bowl. If he can’t play, that’s one thing. But if he can play, you don’t care.”

On former teammate Esera Tuaolo coming out publicly:

“There were a few guys from the team who were taken aback when Esera came out. But for the most part, the guys were really, really happy. Anybody in pain like that, if it was ever released on TMZ instead of doing it your own way, that’s sad. I’m a huge Frank Ocean fan. And I’m happy for him.”

“But I’ll tell you, [Toaolo] could sing. He was a fun guy to be around."

On same-sex marriage:

“Why can’t a gay guy get married? What do you care? When he’s judged in front of God, you won’t be there, it will just be him. Why do you care so much?”

On whether he knows any gay people:

“Everybody does. What am I going to do, stop them at the church and tell them they can’t go in? You go in, you get the word, and you go home.”

On anti-gay former teammate Reggie White:

“I was just as religious as Reggie was. We used to have discussions about the contradictions of the religion. He came in like [ESPN's] Chris Broussard. But I asked Reggie, if I give you John 3:16, it says, “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He doesn’t say if you’re straight, it says whoever believes it.

“I told Reggie the religious people use the Bible to their own advantage. That passage doesn’t specify gay or straight. And if you go to Proverbs, He says He’s the only one who can judge us. A man can’t judge another man. But they skip around that, they go to other places of the Bible. And Reggie would look at that and say we’re going to agree to disagree.”