Which Eagles and Phillies Are Gay?

No city loves its athletes more than Philadelphia. But would we still love them if …

Brian Sims is a Philly lawyer now running for the state legislature and a former football star at Bloomsburg; he came out as gay at the end of his senior year a decade ago (and was utterly accepted by his teammates). Sims knows three current, closeted NFL players, and he reached out to them to see if they’d talk to me; he told them I wouldn’t reveal their identities, and he never told me who they are. They all said no, and one emailed back in outrage to Sims, who paraphrased the response for me:

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? I told you from the get-go, I’m not coming out. You PROMISED an anonymous conversation. Just telling anyone­ we talked breaks our deal.

That I would even know of this player’s existence­—though he would remain nameless­—set him off. Now that’s fear.

Yet maybe, in this day and age, staying in the closet isn’t actually necessary. Maybe we’re ready now to accept a big-time gay athlete. Would fans—and a player’s­ teammates­—really have that much of a problem if a player on the Eagles stood up and shared that part of himself?

PRO SPORTS IS CURRENTLY IN A BIND. As American society has moved, albeit slowly, toward more acceptance of gays, with more gays in prominent positions, with the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, with legalized same-sex marriage most recently passing in New York, with teenagers—even in small towns—openly exploring their sexual orientation, pro sports is starting to look like a backwater. It might be the last institutional bastion of homophobia, the final place where gays feel the need to stay firmly in the closet.

Even in sports, though, the ground is shifting. Over the past year, especially,­ there’s been “a change in the atmosphere,” Jim Buzinski, co-founder of Outsports.com, an online magazine for gay athletes and fans, told New York magazine. As high-school and college players­ are coming out, the pro leagues are at last beginning to take on homophobia in their ranks. During last year’s NBA playoffs, a stunning league commercial appeared: A teenage player calls another player’s moves “gay,” and then two members of the Phoenix Suns appear:

Grant Hill: “Using gay to mean dumb or stupid—not cool.”

Jared Dudley: “Not in my house—not anywhere.”

Coincidentally, just before the ad first appeared, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant called a referee a “faggot” in a fit of rage, presumably not actually addressing his sexual proclivities but delivering the classic put-down of his manhood. League commissioner­ David Stern wasn’t having it: He fined Bryant $100,000, and the star apologized.

Other leagues have stepped up: At least seven baseball teams (including the Phillies) have done “It Gets Better” videos, which offer support to isolated gay teens.

Meanwhile, several sports-world gays have gone public with their sexual orientation. In short order last spring, Will Sheridan, who graduated from Villanova in 2007 after four years starting on the basketball team, Rick Welts, a longtime Phoenix Suns executive and now president of the Warriors, and Jaren Max, an ESPN radio host, came out.

Former 76er Charles Barkley weighed in on the new openness in his blunt style, telling the Washington Post in the wake of the Kobe Bryant dustup, “I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play. … Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot­. … Every pro player in any sport has probably played with a gay person.”

With all this, wouldn’t an openly gay pro player soon follow?

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  • Dan

    The writer states that as a rule of thumb 10 % of the population is gay. Maybe he could of done a 5 minute google search and gotten a real number.

  • Rick

    I don’t know….I saw some pro athletes twirling around on the ice today and we all know those ice-twirlers are gay. So what if a bunch of ice skaters were making the moves on the other guys to get from first base to third base in the hope that they could score with another guy? Who cares if some pro player wants to make the moves on our star quarterback and get him in the sack? And what’s up with the big sweaty men piling on one another trying to grab the other guy’s ball? Yo!….Youse gotta wonder! Getta room! Isn’t it cute how a bunch of guys can sit close together in the down-low and slap the butts of their buddies as they enter the dugout? By the way, did anyone look up Broad Street yesterday and see all the guys, our Philly sports fans, in fancy dresses with feathers, dancin and struttin till their heart’s content? How cute was that? Yo Rocky, check out my sequins! Gay? Who cares? Isn’t it beautiful how everyone can…

  • Jessica

    This is a fascinating topic, and had the potential for an interesting article. Instead, it’s another example of poor journalism from Huber.

  • Jessica

    Utterly useless article, based on absolutely nothing other than speculation, and runs the risk of starting a proverbial witch hunt. Private lives are private, and to sensationalize one’s sexuality only furthers anti-gay sentiment.

  • Louis

    Just used to fill space where they couldn’t sell ad space.

  • Jane

    I’d much rather have Michael Vick on my team than a gay.

  • Allyson

    I agree with jea5008 and Anonymous. This article has no point and is a waste of space. Don’t the editors at Philly Mag read this stuff before it is posted/printed???

  • Natalie

    This article is nothing but 7 pages of gossip and useless rhetoric. Philly Mag can’t do better?

  • Natalie

    This article is nothing but 7 pages of gossip and useless rhetoric. Philly Mag can’t do better?

  • B

    St. Joes fans “chanted” Will Sheradon, how does dick taste? Really? That’s a new one. Now is it possible an idiot or two yelled it out? Sure…I don’t recall it, but that’s possible…but a chant organized and supported by the student body. I think that would have been in Big 5 lore for how ugly a chant it would be and we’d all know about it.

  • Troy

    There is no actual number you can just google. Because so many gay people are still closeted, estimates vary wildly. The generally agreed upon number is 10% in America. And while this article was full of rambling and rumor I still expected more support or at least apathy for openly gay athletes. I find the article and comments interesting even if fact-less and anecdotal.

  • Trix

    Good article, but can we stop quoting the one in ten number? Kinsey found at least a third of men had had “some” kind of same sex experience. But only about 5% of the population in Westernised countries will call themselves gay/bisexual.

    Not that it matters if it’s 5 or 10%, or those who are happy to scr*w another man if the opportunity arises. Bigotry is wrong. Being gay does not affect your athleticism. It is not illegal. End of story.

  • Michael

    Terrific article but I question the logic of 10 out of a 100. The sports world is and has been notoriously homophobic. Even if that stat holds up in the real world, I don’t think that it would hold up in the sports world. There’s no denying that there are more gay men in sports than most people would imagine but what’s applicable in the real world doesn’t apply to a microcosmic and very exclusionary setting.

    The pro-sports leagues are finally beginning to take action by fining players for homophobic slurs and making videos but we aren’t to the point, not even close, where an athlete would feel comfortable and safe coming out. We all saw what happened with the New Orleans bounty scandal…an out gay man in football would be a running target, who would be hit harder than his counterparts. I’ve been out since my late teens and think that it’s important to live an open and honest life. At the moment, however, I’m not sure that the mental/emotional spoils of living as an openly gay athlete would be worth the abuse he’d have to face. The leagues need to do more to allow openly gay athletes. Otherwise, I don’t suspect that there will be many out gays in sports any time soon.

    I dream of the day when young gay sports fan(and there are many, despite what you homophobes may think) has a Drew Brees or Halliday to worship. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon.