In society we tend to appropriate and vernacularize broad topics, distilling them into one specific focal point. To this end there is an overarching thought that the term 'Civil Rights' applies only to issues of race, and when you view sports through this lens images of Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens spring to life as two of the most proud moments in this nation's sporting ethos. The truth is, the term 'Civil Rights' applies to racial, gender, and sexual bias.
Scientifically sixty-five years is just a blip on the radar, socially it might as well be a million years. While it's unlikely anyone reading this can remember first-hand Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, we can all look to the present to see the sporting landscape starting to change. When SBNation sister-site OutSports.com had the chance to interview some current and past players about how they would react to having an openly gay teammate, Robert Griffin III and Coby Fleener among many said they wouldn't really care.
This was followed by a fantastic piece by Amy K. Nelson for SB Nation in which she sat down with Wade Davis- a former defensive back who played for the Titans, Redskins and Seahawks- all the while hiding who he was personally from his teammates and family for fear of ostracism. Davis discussed the common, and most prevalent misconception that somehow, someway a gay player would be viewed as 'less of a man', thereby questioning his ability at a high level.
More after the jump
Some will look at pieces like OutSports, and Nelson's (heck, even this one) and say "Why now?" They'll dismiss as a slow news day, or scorn it as some sort of pandering. I ask "Why not now?" This issue isn't going away, homosexuals aren't fading away into the darkness- nor should they.
There is a patent conridiction in which we want players to be open; we want to see their personalities, want them to share their personal stories with us, and want to know the ins and outs of what makes them a compeditor. However, when something as essential to someone's person-hood as sexuality is brought into the equation there is an air of 'this is inappropriate' that fills the room. Like an edited, network run of 'Pulp Fiction' we're supposed to forget the 'naughty words' exist.
There are many beautiful, and ugly things that fill the off-field world of the National Football League. There are stories of players building houses for the poor, setting up scholarships in their home towns, championing breast cancer fund drives- all juxtaposed with DUIs, nefarious behavior, drug dealing, and assault on women. Sports are not separate from society, but rather a microcosm for them. The era of pretending these things don't exist disappeared with the 24hr news cycle, and now up-to-the-minute reportage on Twitter. Are we supposed to willingly hold up a facade to homosexuality and pretend it doesn't exist, simply as some misguided way to 'protect' the youth?
Obviously nobody was raised the same, but I was raised being told that beating women, conducting yourself without honor, and being disrespectful were the mark of someone who wasn't a man, not being attracted to another one.
Society will evolve, and along with it so will the NFL. It seems we're already seeing those steps from the new breed of NFL players, this from Trent Richardson:
"They do what they do. I don't have a problem with them. As long as they're playing good football and contributing to the team, I don't have nothing to do with that. It is what it is. I don't have any problem with any sexuality or whatever they've got going on. That's them. That's what they want to do. That's their life."
The best players are able to play unencumbered. They are able to leave everything on the field because they didn't bring anything onto it. Why do we want players hiding who they are, constantly concerned whether they're being scrutinized as people? As a human I don't need to agree with anyone else's personal behavior, but that's why I keep to my own lane and so long as that other person doesn't infringe on anyone else's rights they should have the rights we are all given.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Life: the existence of an individual human being or animal
Liberty: the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's behaviour or political views
Pursuit of happiness: One's ability to seek fulfillment unencumbered by others.
Technically we may be getting these three things right, but look again at that 'liberty' part. Can we truly say we are all 'free within society' when someone feels trapped in their own skin for fear of reprisal? That's a tough part to deal with, and hopefully over time stigma can be removed, and finally unlock those cages.