Former NFL defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu, who played most of his 12-year career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, says that if a player came out openly as gay, opponents would deliberately try to injure him. In an interview with Thomas Kaunzner of SportsBlog.com, Ahanotu was asked how an openly gay player would be treated:
Opposing players would verbally abuse and berate that openly gay player. Plain and simple. It is not a politically correct world out on the gridiron. Quite the contrary. In fact, opposing teams' players would go out of their way to take that openly gay player OUT. And I do mean with extra hard hits, illegal hits and head-to-head hits. No, not because of gay bashing but simply for the reason that the perceived meek or weak are preyed upon in the NFL. Opposing team fans would do the same to that openly gay player [abuse and berate him]. Teammates of that openly gay player would tow the company line and be politically correct.
When asked how he would have personally reacted, Ahanotu said exactly as he outlined in the above answer. He also called gay men unmanly because "it isn't manly to perform that type of sexual act."
The first thing to realize about his answer (in addition to its homophobia) is that Ahanotu last played in an NFL game in 2004, and a lot has changed in attitudes in pro sports in nine years. No one out of the more than 30 NFL current players Outsports has spoken to about openly gay players outlined the scenario Ahanotu describes, even to give an extreme example of how badly a player might be treated.
In addition, the NFL would look closely at how an openly gay player is treated. Anyone believed to have deliberately attempted to injure him, especially with illegal or head-to-head hits (already punishable), would face a fine and a likely suspension. I am not so naive as to believe that players with Ahanotu's mentality don't exist, but his attitudes are more and more from an era that is passing, surely and not so slowly.