ORLANDO, Fla. — There are no openly gay players in the NFL but I did find support from 14 Pro Bowlers if one ever decides to come out.
After practices this week for the Pro Bowl in Orlando, I asked 18 players for their thoughts on the Pulse nightclub shooting, LGBT issues and having a gay teammate. Fourteen were LGBT-supportive in their answers:
Walt Aikens (Miami Dolphins defensive back); Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks wide receiver); Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Green Bay Packers defensive back); Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers linebacker); Casey Heyward (Los Angeles Chargers defensive back); Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears running back); Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs tight end).
DeMarco Murray (Tennessee Titans running back); Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers tight end); Matt Prater (Detroit Lions kicker); Harrison Smith (Minnesota Vikings defensive back); Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns tackle); Mike Tolbert (Carolina Panthers fullback); and Leonard Williams (New York Jets defensive end)
Four players did not answer the question. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith seemed to be in a rush and said no comment. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner had no comment when I asked how the NFL could improve its relationship with the LGBT community. Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King said that he doesn’t pay attention to global events and that all he watches is cartoons. And Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles said he didn't know what LGBT meant.
Here are the relevant answers from the 14 players on having a gay teammate:
Walt Aikens (Miami Dolphins defensive back): “I really don’t know if that [being gay] has anything to do with anybody’s ability to play football. If you can play football, you can play football.”
Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks wide receiver): “It wouldn’t bother me.”
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Green Bay Packers defensive back): “That’s their personal business. If they’re gay, they’re gay. That’s on them. You know, I wouldn’t feel different about them, wouldn’t treat them any different way. Respect is respect.”
Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers linebacker): “[They would] still be my teammate, still be one of the guys working hard in this league with me.”
Casey Hayward (Los Angeles Chargers defensive back): “I’d be open arms to whoever. Can’t control what you feel, with who you want to be with, things like that. I’d be open to it, open arms to whoever.”
Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears running back): “I’m pretty sure we would be supportive. We’ve been bonding together and that wouldn’t change anything too much.”
Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs tight end): “Anybody in this world [can play]. I’m comfortable with who I am and I expect everyone to be comfortable with who they are. I respect people for their views and opinions.”
DeMarco Murray (Tennessee Titans running back): “I’d treat them the same. It wouldn’t matter.”
Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers tight end): “I think it’d be great. It’s a very open and honest group of guys. The locker room is a very understanding group and I think he would be treated no differently than everybody else.”
Matt Prater (Detroit Lions kicker): “Everybody should be equal and treated the same. We would treat any [gay] player with open arms. We are all family in the locker room. I don’t think it would be a big deal or anybody would care too much. Especially if they are good ball players, we welcome them all. We just want to win football and try to win games.”
Harrison Smith (Minnesota Vikings defensive back): “If you can do your job and you can play, that’s all that matters.”
Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns tackle): “It’s amazing that the opinions in the locker room have changed 180 degrees from when I first started playing football to where they are right now. I think every locker room in the NFL would accept an openly gay teammate with open arms now, whereas it was such a taboo thing to even talk about when I first got into the league. I think that speaks to the tremendous progress that LGBT issues have had in such a short period of time.”
Mike Tolbert (Carolina Panthers fullback): “Your sexuality is all your personal preference. Me, personally, as a football player, I don’t care who you are as long as you can play football.”
Leonard Williams (New York Jets defensive end): “I would be OK with it. More people are comfortable with it nowadays and I would respect his sexuality.”
In addition to the comments they gave me, Tolbert and Davis participated in an event with the You Can Play Project in Orlando.
It was a very interesting situation as a gay teenager ask straight football players their opinion on LGBT issues and having a gay teammate. I learned that some players — such as with Travis Kelce and Darren Sproles — are naive as to what goes on in the LGBT community . I also was surprised that some players were very knowledgeable about LGBT issues, most notably Joe Thomas, who played with Brad Thorson in college, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, an Orlando native who said that he has LGBT family members.
Many players also saw the Pro Bowl as part of the healing process for Orlando after the Pulse nightclub attacks. Several fans in the stands at practices wore Orlando Strong T-shirts and the Pulse nightclub attacks will always be a very dark day in the history of Orlando and the LGBT community. However, seeing the positive reactions from players and fans alike made me very proud to call Orlando home and it also made me proud to be gay.
In terms of playing with a gay teammate, I did not receive one negative comment. For the most part, these Pro Bowlers have one goal in their mind: winning. They couldn’t care less if their teammate was gay or straight. The NFL is a tight brotherhood and family.
It was nice to see all of these players from all over the league laughing with each other and having a good time. Based on the reactions I got, if a player were to come out as gay, he would be embraced with open arms by many players in the league.