New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is one of the NFL’s biggest stars, and more players with his status need to take the unequivocal stance that he has made on accepting a gay teammate in the locker room.
According to ESPN’s Field Yates, Gronkowski said the following to Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco during an interview on ESPN Radio New York:
I got this question before, about a year ago, and I basically will say the same answer that I did a year ago. You've got to accept the player. Everyone has their own ways to live their life and as long as he's respecting me, keeping distance, respecting myself, I'll respect him back.
If he's being a great teammate and he's a guy on the field doing a great job, well then you've got nothing to complain about. He's another teammate and another friend.
Gronkowski is by no means the first NFL player to come out in support of gay rights, nor is he the one spending the most time and energy on the issue.
In fact, several players around the league have been loudly voicing support for same-sex marriage, which is particularly relevant this week. The United States Supreme Court just finished hearing oral arguments over the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which ban gay marriage.
Before the arguments were presented to the court, several NFL players jointly filed an amicus brief on the case dealing with Prop 8, which allows parties not directly involved with a lawsuit to make their viewpoint known to the justices.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and free-agent linebacker Scott Fujita spearheaded the effort, with a long list of public figures (available via AthletesBrief.com) from sports and entertainment voicing their support for the brief.
But there have also been signs that the culture that has kept gay athletes from making their sexual orientation public will not change so easily.
Last season, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver took a stance opposite of Gronkowski’s, saying a gay player would not be welcome in an NFL locker room.
In addition, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, who is currently going through the pre-draft process, said that an NFL team questioned his sexual orientation during interviews.
It is no secret that the dangerous, demanding and insanely competitive nature of professional football breeds a macho culture that can be unwelcome and downright intolerant of anything perceived to be unmanly. Furthermore, Gronkowski’s reckless abandon on the field and his frat-boy antics off of it have perpetuated this stereotype of NFL athletes.
But not everything can be judged at face value.
While it is easy to depict a guy nicknamed Gronk—who happily accepts the label of “meathead”—as more of a cartoon character than a person, these comments are a reminder that he, like every other NFL player, is a human being with stances and viewpoints on the major issues that affect our country.
How do you feel about athletes taking public stances on cultural and political issues?
His involvement with this particular issue does not compare to the efforts from Kluwe, Fujita and Ayanbadejo, but this is a fight to advance civil rights and change culture for the better.
Everyone has a part to play.
As noted in the press release on AthletesBrief.com, the players who filed the brief did so because of the influence athletes have over public opinion. But bigger stars wield bigger influences.
Kluwe is a punter, while Fujita is a 33-year-old free agent and Ayanbadejo is a backup who is also well into his 30s. But Gronkowski is a 23-year-old superstar who has already rewritten record books and established himself as the best player at his position.
Players like him do not need to spend huge portions of their offseason studying and writing on topics.
But when there is an issue that they have an opinion on and is particularly relevant, they should address it directly and publicly.
This is what Gronkowski did, and although it took very little effort and risk, it will go a long way toward helping change the culture surrounding homosexuality in sports and in this country for the better.