To any athlete afraid of having an openly gay teammate:
Let’s first talk showers and football, since that seems to be a big concern for some players, especially in light of Michael Sam coming out. I played high school football for four years, and college football for three, and I was out to my teammates in college. After hours of hard practice in 105-degree August heat, I was hot, sweaty, sore, bruised, tired and hungry. Hitting on my teammates was the last thing on my mind. Never mind that they were like my brothers and weren’t my type; I just wanted nothing more than to rinse off the turf and sweat and get some Gatorade and grub.
Let’s take a look at what a locker room and shower look like with 100 football guys in it. It isn’t pretty. I loved my teammates, but let’s be honest, not every football player looks like they can be on the cover of "Men’s Health."
Imagine a big room that has sweaty, nasty workout clothes hanging everywhere, tape and other garbage lurking in corners, and a toilet area that doesn’t exactly smell like roses. Definitely isn’t the most romantic spot on earth. And when you get in the shower, all you think about is avoiding icy cold water, pee in the drains (don’t lie, you do it too), and the backside of some offensive lineman that desperately needs bathing. When you get in the shower, ever muscle hurts, the water stings like hell on those turf burns, and your only focus is getting off that damn pre-tape wrap that is stuck to your skin. Just getting clean, getting dry, and putting on deodorant are your only top priorities. Does it sound like a porno scene? No? That’s because it’s not.
What are you afraid of? I don’t think your remarks about gays not being accepted in the NFL, and being nervous about being the shower with a gay teammate come from a place of hate. I think they come from a place of fear, lack of experience and insecurity.
People are resistant to change; I get that. Our history has shown this resistance. Look back to when the first woman tried to run the Boston Marathon, when Jackie Robinson entered Major League Baseball, or when female reporters finally gained access to professional male athlete locker rooms. Having openly gay teammates will be a first for many players in the upcoming years. I understand that this may be scary for the straight guys, and that’s OK. What’s not OK is coming at the gay athletes from a negative place.
The NFL is a business. Athletes are professionals that take their job very seriously, and the locker room is no different. As a friend once told me, "You don’t meet your honey where you make your money." I assure you, gay athletes don’t play sports to be able to get naked with their teammates. This not only goes for the NFL, but all levels of sports. When we talk about the brotherhood (or sisterhood) of a team, it means that those players are family, and are treated as such.
There was an episode of "Seinfeld" that touches on the topic of men checking each other out in the locker room. All men look, let's admit it. The complex about comparing ourselves to others is ingrained and it’s just a fact that men look to compare. Just because we look, it doesn’t mean that you are prey and we are predators.
The hardest thing to change is our own way of thinking. Maybe you're afraid of being replaced by a gay athlete, and feeling degraded. Trust me, if you’re a jerk to us, and we take your spot, there is no better feeling.
Have you ever talked to an openly gay athlete? Played a game with one? Please, for your own sake, find a gay athlete and have a conversation with them. Talk to them about fears, discomforts, questions, and whatever else comes to mind. I truly believe that facing your problems is the best way to handle them. I had some crazy conversations with my teammates, but that only made the situation more comfortable. I had a teammates ask me about gay sex, about dating, gay weddings and about skin care. Teammates gave me a weird look when they saw me using lotion and hair products, but within weeks I ran out because everyone needed to borrow them.
The negative remarks also come from a place of insecurity. Every straight guy that I’ve played sports with (and has happened to be in the locker room with me) has had no issue with me, or with themselves. When you’re comfortable with yourself, being around gay teammates shouldn’t be an issue. On a daily basis I was in a giant cold tub after practice with other teammates, and this was no big deal to them. They were secure about themselves and about me. And maybe they also knew cold tubs are the anti-libido. Also, you may think you're God’s gift to physiques, but please be humble about it; just because you think you’re sexy doesn’t always mean we do.
I gave a speech on National Coming Out Day last year, and one of my biggest messages was targeted toward everyone, not just GLBT people: figure out what keeps you from being your true self, face it, and conquer it. This will make you a happier person, and you can then be happy to get to know other people.
It’s sad that people don’t realize that negative comments about gay athletes are hurtful. The power of language is real. Comments that gays won’t be accepted in professional sports will soon be just as offensive as saying women can’t play sports. All we want is to have the same opportunities and acceptance that our teammates have. News stories about gay athletes now are necessary so that one day, it won’t have to be news.
So please, think about what you say before you say it. Look at us as athletes who can really play. And maybe, you should take a page out of your openly gay teammate’s book and be comfortable in your own skin.
A gay athlete
Scott Cooper is a December 2013 graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a B.A. in Communications. He played linebacker for the school for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He can be reached on Twitter at @shc2112 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his first-person coming out story for Outsports.
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