I TALKED TO SOME 20 EAGLES PLAYERS about having a gay teammate. And I got the feeling, going around that locker room after practice, that I’d entered a time warp: Having a gay teammate would be troublesome for many Eagles—especially sharing the shower—but it was more than that. For many players it was, in fact, a brand-new idea:
“Never thought about it. Never happened.”
“That would be different.”
“Wow. I don’t know, man.”
Only one player, fullback Owen Schmitt, was certain that he’d ever had a gay teammate—and that was in college. Though a few realized that, yeah, it probably was the case that they’d been tackled by and had sweated with and smacked the butt of and even got naked in the showers next to a teammate who was … gay.
There’s no doubt that some of our prime Philadelphia sporting heroes—players we’ve rooted for over the years—are gay. A lot of them, in fact. Just do the math. A generally accepted rule of thumb suggests that 10 percent of the population is homosexual. There are more than 100 players currently on our four local pro teams. So it’s clear that whatever teams we get behind, some of the players we’re now applauding or booing are gay. Over the years, of course, thousands of athletes have graced the Philly sporting scene. Scores of them were undoubtedly gay, too.
We care so deeply about favorite players, especially from our youth: Mike Schmidt. Bobby Clarke. Reggie White. Julius Erving. And then we go right on rooting and caring: Mike Vick. Chase Utley. LeSean McCoy. It’s an intense connection we feel, even a shared identity. We may wear a star’s uniform jersey on big-game days. Or the kids do. Or our spouse.
But what if Julius Erving or Mike Schmidt or Shady McCoy were gay?
In fact, a recent Phillies player, a renowned womanizer, has been rumored to be quite interested in men. There are whispers in gay circles about him picking up men at Knock, a bar on Washington Square West, and taking them back to his condo. Phillies insiders still murmur about his bisexuality.
Imagine, then, that you find out who that player is. Imagine he is, in fact, one of your favorites, that his name is … Cliff Lee.
OHHHHH! NOOOOO! Not Cliff. It couldn’t be Cliff.
Well, you’re right. It isn’t Cliff. Cliff Lee is married, and there’s not a shred of evidence I’m aware of that he’s gay or bisexual.
But as you can see, this is tricky business, this meshing of the fantasy of our sports heroes and their actual lives. Woe to the athlete who reveals a piece of himself—a real piece—that simply doesn’t fit that fantasy. That, in fact, might destroy it. Is it any wonder gay athletes are so private?