Today NPR interviewed Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, two NFL players who have revealed their support of gay marriage this week. What got my attention was the statement that there are no openly gay players in the NFL. Ayanbadejo and Kluwe went on to discuss what it would take for a gay man to feel comfortable coming out within the pro-football community. Certainly a social stigma toward homosexuality within the NFL is real. However, there is another aspect to this conversation that wasn’t considered by interviewer Melissa Block.
There is more than a possibility that same-sex attraction stems, at least partially, from legitimate and unmet needs for inclusion from one’s same-sex peers. Many gay men speak of repeated rejection from other boys throughout their childhood and adolescence. If you are in the NFL, there is a strong likelihood that you participated in male-dominated and male-led sports throughout your childhood. For most, this led to strong bonds with teammates and connections with male role models- key components for a strong gender identity.
Maybe there aren’t any openly gay men within the NFL because football itself- the identification with other men that communicates “you are like me” and strong multigenerational male bonds found in coaches and trainers- actually fills a deep emotional need of boys and young men and therefore stems same-sex attraction. Maybe the NFL does not need to look more like culture; perhaps culture needs to more resemble the NFL.