The NFL may soon have its first openly gay football player. Its first, second, third, and fourth to be exact. At least, that's what Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo told the Baltimore Sun. In an hour long interview he claimed that that there are four current NFL players who are prepared to come out on the same day. Ayanbadejo has been an outspoken proponent of gay rights and has advocated for greater acceptance of gay players in the NFL.
The sad part about all of this is that it's all wrong. The Atlantic is reporting that Ayanbadejo’s statements are flat out false. He later told CNN:
No, actually, what it is is, is there are organizations I'm in contact with, and there are individuals I'm in contact with and collectively we know of some gay players. And these players, some of them are anonymous, some of them we know who they are, but their identity is super secret and nobody wants to reveal who they are, and some of them don't want to reveal who they are, rightfully so because it's entirely up to them what they are going to do.
What we want to facilitate is getting them all together so they can lean on each other, so they can have a support group. And potentially it's possible, it's fathomable, that they could possibly do something together, break a story together.
The problem is, is that news outlets already ran with the story and have continued to run with it. There don’t appear to be any players ready to come out and the assertion that there are, well, it sets the entire movement back. Cyd Zeigler, writing for OutSports.com says that this kind of speculation does more harm than good. How can that be possible?
Gay athletes, gay and lesbian individuals in general, must be allowed to make their own decision about when is the best time to come out. If Ayanbadejo does know of four NFL players who are considering coming out, he just put the national spotlight on them. The media will look at the people he knows and those four individuals will feel more more scrutinized then ever. To face that kind of scrutiny is unfair and unwarranted, even if he is doing it for a noble cause. Ayanbadejo might have just pushed those and other NFL players further into the closet.
If nothing else, this news should serve as a cautionary tale for all allies that it is not your place to ever speak on-behalf of gay people. Even if you feel that you are being supportive, it's just not your place. Allies cannot know what it is like to be in the closet in the first place, we don't know what the pressures are and we do not face the same kind of societal constraints. It's sad that this story has played out this way, but hopefully Ayanbadejo isn't too far off. The era of homophobia in the NFL must come to an end.