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Six gay connections to the Rams-Bengals Super Bowl LVI, and we don’t mean the kicker

We find the LGBTQ angles to Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-SoFi Stadium Views
The Rams play the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams have a kicker named Gay (Matt, married to a woman, two children), but that’s not one of the gay angles to be found in Super Bowl LVI between the Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.

There is only one openly gay player in the NFL, Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders, but that doesn’t mean the two Super Bowl teams don’t have LGBTQ connections. Here are some highlights.

Michael Sam

In 2014, the biggest story in sports occurred when defensive lineman Michael Sam came out as gay prior to the NFL Draft. Sam, who played at the University of Missouri, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Rams with one of the last picks in the draft. Sam played well in the preseason and was among the team’s final cuts. He was later signed to the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys and never played a down in the regular season.

Gay players in Super Bowl history

There have been 16 out gay and bi players in NFL history, with only Nassib out while still active. Four players — all who came out after retiring — have played in a Super Bowl:

Jerry Smith (Washington Redskins tight end, Super Bowl VII, 1972 season); Roy Simmons (New York Giants offensive lineman, Super Bowl XVIII, 1983 season); Esera Tuaolo (Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman, Super Bowl XXXIII, 1998 season) and Ryan O’Callaghan (New England Patriots offensive lineman, Super Bowl XLII, 2007 season).

Gay Rams cheerleaders

Rams cheerleaders Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies were trailblazers when they came out publicly as gay following the Rams’ Super Bowl appearance in the 2018 season.

As Peron wrote in his coming out story for Outsports:

I have always believed in myself, but for the Rams organization to put that same belief in me meant the world to me. I will forever be grateful to my director and this organization.

Making the team as one of the first males to ever dance in the NFL was such an honor. I had no idea how big of an impact it was going to have on the industry and elsewhere.

I have received nothing but love and support from so many people via social media. There have been a multitude of messages from young men and women, who have been inspired by my teammate Napoleon Jinnies and myself to try out for their dance or cheer team.

The Rams were supporters of the Outsports 2019 conference in Los Angeles, sending Peron and Jinnies to the event and providing rainbow-themed Rams T-shirts (I still wear mine).

Gay Bengals of days past

Jack Brennan was the head of public relations for the Bengals from 1994-2016. In 2017, he wrote that during that time there were three Bengals players who apparently were gay.

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.

What Brennan said is not surprising and we have heard players from years ago voice similar sentiments. Last year, Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith said, “We had a gay player in our locker room. I think it was the mid-to-late ’90s and I think we might have had two but that wasn’t what we were focused on. . . . We were focused on winning games and each and every person that was in that locker room contributing to the goal at hand which was winning football games. None of that other stuff mattered. This was about winning football games and trying to be a good person.”

He’s here, he’s queer

Brennan, the former Bengals PR head, announced last year that he identifies as queer and a “cross-dresser.”

Yet, all through my years of being in the league — and this goes for the NFL sportswriting community, too — it’s almost like it was magically, wordlessly scrubbed free of the idea that anybody is anything but textbook straight. You just never hear a word of anybody being otherwise. It’s assumed, it’s in football’s DNA, that nobody is queer — it’s just anathema to the goals of toughness and winning. And this goes beyond the locker room, it’s there even in marketing, ticketing, the equipment room, the training room. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s just silently and unmovably there: Nobody could possibly be anything but straight.

LGBTQ-friendly fans

Fans of the Bengals were determined to be the most LGBTQ-supportive in Reddit NFL forums among the 32 fan bases. Rams fans finished last in the analysis. You can take this with a grain of salt since it’s specific to those forums, but the survey gives a bit of bragging rights to Bengals fans.

My pick

For what it’s worth — Rams 26, Bengals 19, too much Aaron Donald and Von Miller for the Bengals to handle.