Michael Strahan, the former New York Giants defensive end, recently released a Public Service Announcement in support of Marriage Equality. Michael states, "...I always played the game tough but fair, and I feel it's unfair to stop committed couples from being married." (1)
Strahan's message of equality comes after two other predominant pro athletes, NBA's Steve Nash and NHL Sean Avery, lent their voice, image and backing to support same sex Marriage.
Why do we seem so surprised?
Gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Other states recognize gay marriage yet do not provide marriage license, and others yet have gay marriage on their ballots. We regularly see gay movie stars and personalities on our televisions/media outlets, and it's likely we have a gay friend, neighbor or coworker. There are more gays in the world than even redheads.
This is a modern age, the 21st century; with social awareness, environmental care, an increasing respect for diversity and a focus on equality. One would assume pro athletes would support a reform for social justice as was the case when professional sports finally came around to promote racial equality. Teams wanted great players, not white players, but great players. The same could be said for gay players, yet this is just the beginning.
Athletes appear to be the last bastion for breaking the homophobic barrier. Our society seems to view homosexuality and masculinity as opposites; therefore, a gay athlete may be viewed as not only unmanly but "less than" on the field. How could a gay man be rough and tumble on the field, a real man's man and a Super Bowl hero?
Just as there are a multitude of straight men's differing personalities, interests and traits, the same is true for gay men. One could stereotype and say all straight men belong to the NRA, have a freezer stocked with deer meat, drink a beer after work and rock out to Ted Nugent. Ahhhh yes, this man could be an athlete: man vs. nature, man vs. beer, man is not queer.
This may be an accurate description of a small percentage of straight men, yet it distinctly leaves out the majority of males in our society. The same holds true when stereotyping "flaming, dramatic or sissified" gay males. Diversity occurs in our lives and our sexuality. Manly, athletic, and skilled men can be gay.
Another challenge to end homophobia in sports is the continuance of the "all erotic, all the time stereotype" which is, all gay men want all other men. How can one shower, walk naked, feel comfortable in a locker room under the gaze and lusting of a gay athlete? The same as a straight man can walk into a McDonald's and not want to have a one night stand with every woman working there. OK, let's make them naked, going to a nude beach and not want to sleep with every woman walking by or lying in the sand. Plus, if you are straight, then you have no worries. You won't be "converted", lured into a "gay trap" or even hypnotized by their so called-lustful eyes. You will only have a teammate who will most likely have the same goal—win on the field. This stereotype can go the way of the soap suds, down the drain.
To date, only a limited number of NFL players have been brave enough to come out of the closet: David Kopay in 1975, Roy Simmons in 1992 and Esera Tuaola in 2002. With our society evolving toward social justice, a media campaign of "It Gets Better" and the support of a few pro athletes, I hope more men will step forward, smash stereotypes, have pride in who they are and play hard on the field.
May Michael Strahan, Steve Nash and Sean Avery's message of marriage equality prove to be the lifting of one of the last taboos in sports: openly gay athletes.