Is Aaron Rodgers gay?”

Never before have I heard a question asked so many times in such a short period of time. In Palm Springs for a couple days to ring in the new year, dozens of people asked me the question on the mind of every gay person who’s ever read a gossip blog. Not even the Manti Te’o incident generated this much speculation amongst my friends, acquaintances and drunk revelers.

The chatter stems from a loosely connected series of dots strung together by a website (who, I'm proud to say, won't get any ‘clicks' from this story) that tied Aaron Rodgers' former assistant to the NFL MVP's nightstand. Various blogs took the story and ran with it, claiming Rodgers had been officially "outed" as gay.

Truth be told, this isn’t the first time we’d heard the “Aaron Rodgers gay” speculation. It’s been swirling through our inboxes for the last several years, in part because of the underground stories about Rodgers and this assistant he lived with. We’ve paid little mind to it, as the speculation has been sprinkled in with mostly wishful-thinking “rumors” about most attractive men in the NFL, including Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (though never once about Carson Palmer. I guess he’s just that straight).

We never wrote about any of these "rumors," and we didn't touch the latest round. Even as we got flooded with questions about the issue this week – and head-scratching as to why we weren't touching it – we kept quiet until Rodgers addressed the speculation himself. The reason was simple: It was the right thing to do.

Outsports doesn't out people. We don't attempt to. We never have, and we never will.

I believe that every high-profile athlete who stays in the closet puts the brakes on our collision course with equality in sports. I think it's terribly selfish for any athlete who's reached the pinnacle of his career to stay in the closet. Guys struggling to make rosters have warranted concerns about rocking the boat in any way, let alone coming out publicly. But while it's important to afford celebrities a truly private life, the state of homophobia in sports today – coupled with the LGBT teen suicide rate – makes it imperative that every gay athlete at the very top let the world know who they are.

You know what's even more important than all of that? The athlete needs to be ready to come out when he chooses to take the plunge. The worst possible scenario is an athlete being outed before he's ready. It can cause far more damage than good. From a career slump, to teammates and team management being caught off guard, to overwhelming emotional turmoil, outing someone can have catastrophic consequences. If Robbie Rogers had been outed against his will just a year earlier, it's possible he wouldn't be in soccer today.

We don't know of a single male athlete in the United States who has come out publicly on his own accord and suffered overall negative consequences. However, the two male athletes we know were outed – football players Greg Congdon and Jamie Kuntz – were both removed from their teams and suffered. Outing is damaging; Convincing someone to come out publicly (which we have done many times) can be powerful.

You know when an athlete is never ready to come out? Before his first playoff game. That’s when these gossip-mongers decided to attempt to “out” Aaron Rodgers. As he readied for Week 17, a win-and-you’re-in scenario against the Chicago Bears, the Packers quarterback had to weather a firestorm of accusations and speculation about his personal life. He was recovering from a collar-bone fracture, hadn’t started a game in almost two months, was playing the team that sent him to the sidelines – and now he had to think about his personal life being exposed at the worst possible time.

I don't know if Aaron Rodgers is gay. If he isn't, the rumors are nothing more than a mosquito that keeps buzzing around his ear. But if he is gay – if the speculation is actually true – then it's a distraction of existential proportions. If Rodgers is closeted, and the secret he's held all of his life has suddenly been plastered across the Internet against his wishes, when he's not ready, before the biggest game of the year and one of the biggest games of his career – who the hell does that help?

It certainly doesn't help other closeted athletes. Some of those athletes have begun to recognize the changing atmosphere in sports. They've started to think they could dip a toe in the water, maybe try to date someone on the sly, maybe confide in a couple people that they are gay.

These rumors just killed that for some closeted athletes. It was bad enough when Kerry Rhodes‘ alleged ex-boyfriend tried to out him last spring. With the Rodgers episode, the specter of speculation has perhaps made someone delete phone numbers from his phone. Another athlete has possibly stopped all thoughts of coming out to his best friend. When gossip sites report on “spies” that send secret accounts of NFL players in love with their assistants, it sets us back from proud athletes standing up and coming out.

In the end, all the rumor-mongering did was force Rodgers to make a public statement about it. The statement could have been awesome, affirming and put the rumors to rest.

"Look, I have no problem with gay people," Rodgers could have said. "I have gay friends and I'm lucky enough to have gay fans. But I'm just not gay. I suppose I should be flattered that some guys would want me to be available (insert laughs), but I'm just not. Sorry guys, you'll have to bring it up with my girlfriend (more laughs)."

It could have been great. Sadly, the statement he gave just made matters worse.

"I'm just gonna say, I'm not gay. I really, really like women. That's all I can say about that."

What did forcing this statement accomplish? For one, Rodgers is now on record as not being gay. If he is in fact gay, it just became virtually impossible for him to ever come out. Plus, the statement was so badly crafted that it has people thinking he's lying, as though two "reallys" is a double-negative.

Is Aaron Rodgers gay? I don't know. All that matters right now is that he says he's not. And since we're not going to out an athlete, we'll focus on making sports a safer place for LGBT athletes and convincing as many athletes as we can to come out publicly.

Also check out

Dave Zirin: Is it Getting Better? Chris Kluwe, Aaron Rodgers and LGBT Rights in Sports
Will Leitch: Trapped in the closet