The League

Mike Freeman
Columnist

Mike Freeman

National sports columnist for CBSSports.com

Black Homophobia

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One of the first times we spoke his words were blunt. "If we're not careful this thing could get me (expletive) killed," he said. "If anyone finds out, I'm dead."

That was Steven Thompson in 2004. He was an active gay player in the National Football League when we spoke for a book I was writing about the sport. Of course, his name wasn't really Steven Thompson. It was a pseudonym used to protect his identity. Thompson truly believed that if anyone in football discovered he was really gay - not the overly sexual hetero he portrayed himself to teammates, playing the role with such skill it would make a Hollywood actor proud - serious physical harm would follow.

In decades of covering professional football, I'd never met someone so paranoid and artful at hiding behind invisible masks. He was insane and insecure, I believed, until he started talking and talking and talking some more about his closeted life.

He spoke about the ugly homophobia rampant in locker rooms and how gay men were routinely viewed as animals and people to be feared, if not outright eliminated. My opinions of Thompson's paranoia changed from disbelieving to understanding and I thought then: there's no way the NFL or any other major American professional sport is ready for an openly gay athlete.

And now, some five years later? Those opinions haven't budged. Not an inch.

No way, no how, not any time soon. It'll be decades before anything like that happens in an NFL locker room, if ever.

Of course, some gay friends remark: People once said the same thing about an African-American becoming president. But Barack Obama achieving the presidency was easier. Yes, you read that right: easier.

Gays remain the last group of people society is allowed to hate and openly discriminate against. In the African-American community - and I'll get in trouble for saying this - we are sometimes the worst offender. The only thing viler in rap music than its open disdain for women is its rampant homophobia. In California, media reports bristled with news that 70 percent of blacks supported a recent proposition to ban gay marriage in that state.

Thus it's no coincidence the hardest line sports against openly gay athletes are in the black dominated ones like the NFL and NBA. Again, this will make some angry with me but it's true.

No, this won't occur any time soon but when it does this is how the barrier will be broken.

A highly ranked high school quarterback grows up openly gay in a progressive part of the country. He rises to be considered the top prospect in the nation and attends a school like Stanford or Cal.

He becomes such a great college player (while remaining openly gay) that NFL teams have no choice but to draft him.

And then he shows America what some of us already know...it doesn't matter. It never should have.

By Mike Freeman  |  June 18, 2009; 5:17 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It's all about needing someone to hate, someone who will by definition be lower than you, bevause you need to be better than SOMEONE. For men, that means women and gays. (For many gay men, it's still women.)

If you suddenly realize women and gays are just people, where will you take you anger and your bonding with other men? Right: You will have to start thinking and you will have to develop as a human being.

So start doing it. Now.

Posted by: asoders22 | June 18, 2009 6:09 AM

Thanks, Mike Freeman, for being so forthright. This is how prejudices start to chip away. I am sure that there are several (at least) gay football players who are stuck in deep closets. It's just a question of time when those doors open.

Posted by: bob2davis | June 18, 2009 9:51 AM

Very well written article. Though I think you are incorrect, eventually when Gay's are accepted another minority will become the target. Atheists are a good bet as they represent a major threat to the religious authorities. Also the "Hippy Culture" for lack of a better name, is actually legally banned in the U.S. through the war-on-drug-users.

Posted by: alex35332 | June 18, 2009 10:02 AM

The problem is that "men" feared to be tolerant for fear to be labeled soft or homosexual. My cousin has a gay brother whose orientation he refuses to accept because he feels acceptance of his brother may mean that he is also gay - he is just plain ignorant. Most men I speak to regarding homosexuality feel the same way, if you accept homosexuals as equals it means that you are also gay; so discriminating against them makes them feel superior and above reproach. That is what society has dictated for generations that to feel good about yourself you must find somebody you can demean. Sad, is it not? For change to happen, another generation needs to be raised to see that WE ARE ALL EQUALS and being good to others is what can truly make you happy - maybe in the next 30 years this change will come; I truly doubt it will be before that.

Posted by: pcca | June 18, 2009 10:49 AM

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