It’s a long, thin room inside the NovaCare complex, where the eagles peel off their uniforms after practice.
Lockers line both sides. As they strip, players toss shirts and socks and jocks into big mobile laundry baskets before heading to a wide opening in the middle of the room, the doorway that leads to the showers, off-limits to everyone but them.
Mike Patterson is a load of a man, chunky, 300 pounds. He anchors the middle of the Eagles’ defensive line. He’s still in his uniform pants and a t-shirt when I stop at his locker to ask him a question:
“How would you feel about having an openly gay teammate on the Eagles?”
He smiles. Coach Andy Reid has already warned his team that I’d be coming in to ask some questions. He told his players not to be offended, that they shouldn’t take it personally. Patterson has a long, dark, wispy beard and appears young—he’s 28. He looks almost cherubic.
“Would it be a problem?” I wonder.
“I don’t know, man,” he says. “Probably be an issue at first, probably—going to be uncomfortable at first, I should say. I don’t know, kind of tough to say. It could work out, most definitely, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy. … ”
“What would be hard about it?”
“Just the fact that, guys worried that he’d peep down, and stuff like that, make people uncomfortable … ”
“‘Peep down,’ did you say?”
Patterson smiles. Yes, that’s what he said. Guys checking out guys. “I don’t know—I mean, people just feel uncomfortable.”
“Would you feel uncomfortable?” I ask him.
“Makes an uncomfortable situation—makes me uncomfortable.”
“Have you ever played with a gay player?”
“Not that I know of,” Mike Patterson says, laughing.
It’s kind of an amazing thing, I tell him, that there are currently 3,400 men playing in the four major sports—football, baseball, basketball and hockey—and not one is openly gay. That’s pretty strange, when you think about it.
Mike Patterson just laughs.