First published in 2017.
Jack Brennan was the head of public relations for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1994-2016 and during that time he says there were three Bengals players who apparently were gay.
Brennan, now retired, wrote an excellent article for Cincinnati City Beat about the absence of openly gay players in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB and dropped this nugget:
During my time with the Bengals, three players came across my radar at different times as the subject of significant insider scuttlebutt about being gay. In one case, I know from personal discussions that top club management was very aware. I never personally discussed these cases with any players, but it’s inconceivable to me this never reached the roster as a whole.
And I was pleasantly surprised to observe that each of the allegedly closeted trio seemed fully accepted at all times in the traditional solidarity of teammates. When one of them had off-field legal issues, unrelated to sexual identity, leading to some controversial reporting by a local TV station, several players reacted with near-rage at station personnel and demanded to me that the station be kicked out of the locker room.
Obviously, with Brennan having been with the team for 23 years, it’s impossible to tell when any of these players were with the team, but his main point is that their sexual orientation was assumed and nobody cared.
While this offered Brennan some hope, he was disappointed when he sought out a Bengals player (I assume it’s a current one, but he is not specific), whom he knew to be especially thoughtful, to comment on gay players. The first disappointment was that the player would only speak anonymously. The second was how tepid his comments were about accepting a gay teammate.
“I can take a guess at why — just fear of people’s reaction and in general society, not just sports,” the player said. “What your loved ones may or may not think. And the next fear is how teammates may or may not receive you. It’s something everyone doesn’t accept, even though we’re more accepting than at some time before, and it’s still not to where everybody feels comfortable with it. And in sports, ever since we’ve been little, we’ve been told to ‘eliminate distractions.’
“I don’t think it would affect my play. Once the game starts, everyone has to have a single focus. But what it could affect is the dynamics of the locker room, the closeness and connection. The brotherhood type of mentality. It would be different in the showers. You may say it shouldn’t be. I hear you, I understand that. But no one likes the idea of potentially being sexualized, of being ‘checked out.’ I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but people are not comfortable with it.”
Ugh, the old shower argument. The fact is that this anonymous player has almost certainly showered with a gay teammate at some point in his career. I never understood why one would assume that an openly gay player would suddenly turn from being respectful into a voyeur once he came out. As a former college football linebacker, Scott Cooper, wrote for Outsports:
“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.’”
Brennan is also not buying the anonymous player’s description of what team brotherhood really means.
“You may think you’re being protective of some special bond but the fact is we are all losers until the day a gay Bengals player can put his husband’s photo in his locker and talk about the romantic dinner they had on their anniversary.”
Bravo. Brennan gets to the heart of the matter and his mixture of hope intertwined with frustration is a perfect description of where we stand in men’s pro sports in 2017.
This post was updated Feb. 9, 2022, to change the photo with the Bengals in the Super Bowl.