GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11: Christian Wilkins #42, Ben Boulware #10, Austin Bryant #91 and B.J. Goodson #44 of the Clemson Tigers look on against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. | Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When a video close-up of Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins grabbing the ass and genitals of an opposing Ohio State player surfaced last weekend, it got a panoply of reaction. Some people chuckled at the grabby player “getting caught;” Others were horrified and sounded the “sexual assault” alarm.

For me it was just straight athletes going gay. Again.

Yes, I’m using a bit of shorthand here. Of course being gay is a lot more than grabbing another guy’s nether regions. I’ve been out for 20-plus years and with my husband for exactly 62.963% of that time. Of course it’s more than that.

But what gets so often lost is that the opposite is also true: Grabbing another guy’s nether regions is about a lot more than being “gay” (so please, forgive the shorthand).

What might be deemed “gay” in West Hollywood or the Castro is just your average afternoon post-practice ritual for so many straight guys completely comfortable with their own bodies and the bodies of their teammates and opponents.

What was once gay is straight again.

Men of all sexual orientations look at each other’s penises in the shower. They size each other up. They measure themselves against other men. They touch each others’ genitals. They roughhouse naked in the locker room. They talk explicitly about what they do sexually, what they like. They paint graphic pictures for their teammates of them having sex (with a woman, of course; always with a woman).

Don’t believe me? Just ask Anthony Davis.

None of this makes any of the participants “gay.” Truly.

Long before there ever was “gay,” this is what men did. In ancient Greece and Rome, homosexual conduct was just your run-of-the-mill Tuesday visit to the bath house or trist with acquaintances.

Today, men in particular are forced to “choose” between being gay and being straight (despite what I personally believe to be the preponderance of bisexuality among humans).

Sports are the ultimate test case for all of that. With mostly fit, athletic bodies, male athletes come together naked in the locker room, at the very least taking careful notice of the naked bodies next to them. This doesn’t make the athletes “gay” per se, it means they are human. It makes them sighted and tactile.

In Wilkins’ case, that spilled out onto the field in front of a national television audience, a moment of blunt honesty.


Wilkins’ teammate, Ben Boulware, made my point before I did.

“I know there’s going to be that one person: ‘Well, I played football and I never did that,’” Boulware said after Wilkins’ intimate incident. “You either sucked at football, you had no friends in the locker room, or you were the person that went in the bathroom stall to go change because you were scared to shower with the team. … The people who are freaking out about that have never played the game, or were just losers who didn’t have any friends when they played the game.”

That’s a Clemson football player saying if you don’t check out your teammates and grab dicks in the locker room, you’re not really a part of the team.

Yes, straight guys look too.

All of this ultimately creates a tough dynamic for athletes who are actually gay.

For years, part of the assumption with all of this grabby-grabby horseplay has been that all the dudes in the locker room are straight. If they’re all straight, then it’s just “boys being boys,” horsing around. Like bros do.

Add an openly gay guy into the mix and suddenly all of this takes on a new meaning in the minds of some of the willing participants.

When a naked Anthony Davis is rolling around on the locker room floor getting spanked, it’s just good fun. When it’s a gay teammate spanking him, in the eyes of some straight teammates, it’s… different.

Some will say my claims are false, archaic or wishful thinking. They are none of those things. They are the results of watching men — naked, clothed, in the locker room and on the court — for decades.

Boulware was right. This is what straight-male athletes do. They touch each other. They want to touch each other. It’s one of the reasons football has elevated to the most popular sport in America.

This Monday, all eyes will be glued to the National Championship game to see just what “gay” stunt the Clemson football players pull next.

Cyd Zeigler discusses the uniquely “gay” straight-guy locker-room dynamic in his book, Fair Play.

You can read more about Clemson football at Shakin The Southland.

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