And so Brian Sims, the Center City lawyer running for the state legislature in large part to address backward laws about employment and fair access and adoption for gays, who has spoken to some 50 colleges to help administrators and students deal with the new reality of gay athletes, has heard from three closeted pros. Bravo, they tell him. Keep fighting the good fight.
I believe I understand their fear, even that of the player who lambasted Sims just for sharing, with me, the fact of his existence.
Because athletes in our prime sports are actors in a particular sort of drama. I witnessed a minor moment at an Eagles practice that said a lot: Asante Samuel was defending receiver Riley Cooper on a pass that was off the mark, turning Cooper around and exposing him to a big hit to the ribs, though Asante merely hammered him with “Oh, that’s going to get you fucked up, Riley!” Always on the line, in the man-vs.-man wars of football, is your very survival.
Which ramps up the Wild West hyper-machismo bravado that runs through that sport especially. Players will gladly accept a quarterback who went to prison for murdering dogs (our very own Michael Vick), or a wide receiver who shot himself with the illegal gun he’d taken into a nightclub (Plaxico Burress), or a defensive back who has constant run-ins with the law (Pacman Jones), or teammates who beat their wives (take your pick). They get arrested, apologize, maybe do some time, and then return with their machismo often enhanced. No wonder gay players stay silent and hidden.
Of course, we fans think the same way. A gladiator on our football team who sweeps in for the quarterback kill—what if we found out that in his spare time, he was chasing other … men? There’s a reason Rock Hudson (and every other gay leading man in Hollywood since Rock Hudson) didn’t reveal his sexual orientation: The fantasy up there on the screen might be destroyed. Is the risk of meshing the real and imaginary any different when it comes to our sports heroes? Given that what they’re playing is much more than a game, the answer, still, is no.