Which Eagles and Phillies Are Gay?

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

Worse, he got Facebook messages from opposing fans threatening to kill him—drunken idiots. Will didn’t go to the police. He simply locked down his Facebook account. But he had moments of paranoia. Will is convinced he googled “Will Sheridan gay” so much himself that he made it a preferred search, a self-fulfilling prophecy of exposure.

But worry isn’t something that hangs over Will. He is handsome, polite and rangy, a natural performer. He loves to talk. Sitting with him at a sushi restaurant in New York, I realized that he just might be the most confident, self-possessed 26-year-old I’ve ever met. One who is taken to saying things like: “I knew what I wanted early on. … I’ve been living my life for a really long time, it feels like. So I’m an old soul. … I think there’s a void right now for openly gay black men in entertainment, in sports, in culture. And I think that’s what I am. I think that’s a very powerful thing.”

Coming out, Will says, has been utterly positive: “All the negative stuff was before I came out. Because people persecute you for not owning it when you are and they know it.” Yet it’s not clear whether we’re about to see gays in the pros comfortable enough to come out of the closet—or whether we’re still a half-decade away. A lot of observers believe it won’t be an established player (“Hello, my name is LeBron … ”) who proclaims his orientation. Instead, it will be some kid who’s good, very good, and comes out in high school, where he’s the big star. He’s so good, he gets recruited to some big-time Division I school, where he’s openly gay and becomes one of the best players in the nation.

Think he wouldn’t be drafted by a pro team? Think a progressive company like Nike wouldn’t see a huge marketing opportunity? A Will Sheridan with a little­ more talent would be pure gold, lapping up mega-endorsements in his free-form glory.­ And then the almost universal answer I got in the Eagles locker room—“Yeah, some guys would have problems with it”—well, what could players do? They’d have to deal.

YET MAYBE WE’RE NOT QUITE READY for a big-time pro athlete in Philadelphia who’s gay. One prominent local gay man—not an athlete—tells me the undercurrent of homophobia in this city is the reason he isn’t about to announce his sexual orientation to the world. But I begin wondering about pressure of another kind: Does our gay community­ think it’s a little weird—weak, even—that in this day and age, no gay pro has the courage to step out of the closet?

I spend an evening at Woody’s, the city’s best-known gay bar, to ask how guys there feel about closeted gay pros. Isn’t it a little absurd that no gay pro has stepped out?

But I find something other than judgment­—quite the opposite, in fact. A rugby player and former college wrestler named Tyler tells me, “We’ve all been through the pain of coming out. Physical pain doesn’t compare—doesn’t compare to what I felt.”

“To each his own pace,” agrees Steven, a bartender who has watched the shifting landscape of gay life in the city from his perch at Woody’s for 30 years.

The warmth and ease among patrons here is eye-opening. And it’s exactly what closeted pro players are missing—they’re now spectators to a gay world that is, at least in some places, open and free. Will Sheridan had me laughing, talking about walking on his toes with prancing freedom through his Brooklyn Bed-Stuy neighborhood and getting flagged by a street guy as that “very tall gay black man.” ­Loneliness—being cut off from themselves—is the sad lament of all the closeted pros who came out after playing; now, being closeted stands in even starker contrast to a gay community in full stride.

Meanwhile, Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports, has worked up a lather at closeted pros (and their agents) for not coming forward, for not caring enough and doing what they can as beacons of hope for lost youth. “How many gay kids have to kill themselves before somebody decides they have to do something about it?” he wonders.

Which is an awful lot to ask. But that’s where the light’s beginning to shine—onto closeted gay pros.

As little as 10 years ago, players could hide behind the notion that no 300-pound footballer could possibly be gay. John Amaechi talks about the momentary comfort of focusing simply on being an athlete,­ and leaving his “personal life in a box, under the bed.”

The message is getting louder: No more.

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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.