Sailing the Seas of Cheese: An Open Letter to Player X
I don’t know your name, so Player X will have to suffice for now. I have no idea what team colors you wear. You could be a reigning Super Bowl champion or your team may never see the playoffs in your career. You could be one of my beloved Green Bay Packers, or you could be one of those hated Chicago Bears. You could be a nobody that bounces from team to team that no one seems to ever remember or you could be one of the premier faces of the league that makes money hand over fist complete with endorsement deals. Until you decide the time is right to share your news with the world, we will never know. But chances are, there is a You on each team, quietly living with either half-truths, open secrets or merely trying to fly under the radar undetected so everyone just keeps on assuming you are straight like people expect you to be. I know that’s a crappy consolation, but I thought I’d point out that you are hardly alone in the league.
Funny who and how you love is suddenly under so much scrutiny. As if announcing that you’re gay will suddenly change how you do your job on the football field or how you interact with your teammates. At the end the day the sky will remain blue, the ocean wet and the sun very, very hot. Chances are a lot of them already know. For many of them, it’s really no big deal. So don’t be surprised that when you say the words, “I’m gay” that some of their responses are along the lines of, “Glad you know, too” or “Cool, I’m out of shampoo. Can I borrow yours?” Of course it won’t be received well by everyone. But do you really care? Yes, they probably know too. But that doesn’t mean you need to tolerate their passive aggressive gay jokes. You don’t have to laugh along. But you know what? They are probably already assholes to you, so do you really care what they think?
I wish it could be that easy, because seriously, whose business is it anyway? I wish we lived in a civilized and evolved enough society where this really isn’t a big deal. But I’m realistic, too. I’ve seen the vitriol over at Mike Freeman’s blog post that broke this whole story. The comments hint at the very best of humanity, but also reveal a lot of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals complete with some references to this being the end of times. And I’m absolutely sick and tired with the boilerplate ignorant response, “Straight people don’t have to come out, so why does HE have to do it?” or “Straight people don’t flaunt it, so where does He get off shoving his sexuality in his face?”
Only they fail to realize that straight people announce their sexual preferences every day when they hold hands in a restaurant, or put their arms around each other at the movies or give their beloved a peck on the cheek as they say goodbye at the airport. It isn’t flaunting anything. It’s living life. Why are such displays of affection suddenly forcing one’s sexuality upon someone if that relationship deviates from the heteronormative standard? Is flaunting one’s sexuality just something as innocuous as answer to a teammate’s question about what you’re planning on doing during the offseason with something along the lines of a quiet week away at some sunny locale with your partner? How does that offend the greater humanity? Does that threaten their straightness? How does it make you less of a man?
It’s an answer to a question. No more, no less. It isn’t some sort of proselytizing trying to convince the other 52 guys on the team to suddenly bat for the other proverbial team. Don’t let anyone every convince you otherwise.
Coming out won’t change who you are. Well, other than you’ll be free to stop living in the shadows and be honest with others. But more importantly, it will allow you to be fully honest with yourself. And that’s a good thing.
I hope your friends don’t change how they view or treat you. I hope your parents and the rest of your family don’t change how they love you. I wish I could say I don’t give two rips what fans think. (See above comments on knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.) But according to Freeman, you are worried how fans will treat you. Yes, some will call you horrible names, and I can’t say it won’t hurt. You may receive threat of violence or even death threats. (Report them. Those are hate crimes. You have rights, remember.) And who cares if some slack-jawed redneck thinks you’re suddenly less of a man. You didn’t get a vote choosing his mate. Why should he or she have a vote to pick who you love?
I don’t doubt it will be scary as hell telling the world that you are gay. I cannot relate because like many I’ve benefited from heteronormative privilege. I still remember how my friend D came out in college. It wasn’t an easy venture. He lost some friends (who probably never really were true friends in the first place) but discovered he had a hell of a lot of allies. He made time to personally tell those close to him. I still remember him fidgeting nervously as he sat across from me in one of the cafeteria booths in my dorm. We were having coffee. “I’m gay,” is all he said. But then he followed it up with, “You can hate me if you want.” He felt compelled to add that second half to the conversation because some of the previous conversations ended with the person on the other side of the table walking away. But in that moment, I realized the power of acceptance. He’d been my friend for three years. Whether he was gay or straight didn’t really matter.
But the moment you speak those words in public, remember that you now have a very public forum to change perceptions and perhaps educate one or two people along the way. Coming out won’t just be about people standing beside you or walking away. You will hold quite a lot of power in your hands. You will give other GLBTQ youth a voice that they didn’t have the day before. You may prevent a kid from getting picked on. You may give another the confidence to come out to his or her family and friends. You may prevent another senseless suicide by helping a teen know he or she is not alone– if you can come out and be stronger because of it, so can they.
You will give others hope.
I hope you have the strength to come out on your terms. Not your agent’s terms. Not someone else’s agenda dictating how and when you do it. And I pray the media doesn’t out you (I’m looking at you, Perez Hilton) before you are ready. You are strong, X, whoever you are. You’ve made it this far. When the time comes, lean on your friends and family. Know that fellow players such as Chris Kluwe, Scott Fujita, Tom Crabtree and Brendan Ayanbadejo who will support you. And in a very public fashion. You are still a member of their brotherhood, and I’m pretty sure they will defend you more than you can ever imagine.
You are not alone. The league likely has a YOU on every team. The moment you share this part of yourself with the world, you’ve just made their journey a little less rocky.
Good luck and God Bless,
Kelly is a columnist for Pocket Doppler and co-host of Out of the Pocket on the Packers Talk Radio Network. To point out the obvious, she is a staunch supporter of marriage equality, likes a good cup of coffee and the color orange. She can be reached on Twitter at @ceallaigh_k