Which Eagles and Phillies Are Gay?

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

“If you’re not meshing with all your teammates,” Mathis said, “that can be a big problem. Chemistry is a big part of professional sports, and the potential for somebody who doesn’t really understand it, who does have homophobic tendencies, that’s their fault—but it’s there. And probably why you don’t see anybody out.”

Many observers say the toughest teammates for a gay player to deal with would be born-again Christians, especially black born-agains, given that, generally speaking, neither evangelicals nor black culture is welcoming to gays.

Wide receiver Jason Avant, an African-American, is the most vocal born-again Christian on the Eagles, but he takes the high road on gays: “I don’t think anyone should shun them, even though my belief as a Christian doesn’t agree with the lifestyle. But I don’t agree with what a lot of people in this locker room do now. But they are my teammates, and you have to learn how to work out differences with anyone.”

At the Flyers’ practice facility in Voorhees, a smaller sampling of players evinced some nervousness at the question, but I kept hearing the same answer: If a guy’s a good teammate, then his personal life, that’s his business. I heard that even from Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers’ lone black player, who recently got in some hot water for just maybe calling opponent Sean Avery “a faggot” during an on-ice fight. (The league didn’t discipline him, ruling the evidence for what he said inconclusive.)

Simmonds is as calm and direct as he would be talking about his slap shot in fielding my questions, including the one he knows is coming, about his controversy last fall. “If people think I’m homophobic, they’ve got me wrong, they don’t know me at all. … I’m a minority in a sport, and I don’t discriminate against anyone.”

That’s not exactly a denial, but on the other hand—as Lower Merion High alum Kobe Bryant could tell you—a lot of stuff gets said in the heat of the moment.

STILL, THERE’S A NEW DAY COMING, and I’ve met him. Will Sheridan is 26 years old. He lives in New York, where he’s a fledgling hip-hop artist starting to get small gigs—in October, he performed before 4,500 people back at Villanova, where he graduated in 2007. Surely everyone in the audience was well aware of Will’s sexual orientation, since he “tells my narrative” in his music. And he’s been publicly out since May. But back when he was playing basketball on the Main Line, it was trickier. Some knew. Others guessed.

Will came out to his freshman roommate, teammate Mike Nardi, who said, “Okay, dude, as long as you don’t smell my underwear or anything.” Not a problem. His other teammates would learn informally. It didn’t seem to matter to anybody. There was never a team meeting to discuss Will’s orientation or awkward moments in the shower or any of the rank homophobia a lot of people assume flows from jocks.

But not everything was rosy. Will is from the small town of Bear, Delaware, where he’d been class president, dated pretty girls, been a renowned athlete. His parents were both cops. Their backgrounds, and his life story up to the age of 19, when he came out to them, didn’t match.

His mother came around pretty fast. His father was a different story. He and Will didn’t talk for a year. Will went to his coach, Jay Wright, as well as a school counselor, for support. But given that his parents were going through a divorce, the true family problem (at least from Will’s perspective) was easy to hide.

The fans of archrival St. Joe’s were onto him, though. The two teams played some games at the Palestra, on the edge of Penn’s campus. Will dated a male Penn grad student quite openly for a period. Word had spread. Plus he had this odd way of running on his toes. (“That’s just the way I run!” he laughs.) Which meant at games—in classic Philly tradition—the taunts from St. Joe’s fans cut to the core: “Will Sheridan, what’s dick taste like?” they chanted, fast, as if they were nailing a flaw in his jump shot.

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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.