It was fifteen years ago when I was in my mid-to-late twenties that one of my best friends came out to me. It was the first time – and not the last – that a close friend of mine told me he was gay. And to be honest, I felt quite honored (I later learned that although he had already told all of our female friends months earlier, I was the first male friend he had been so candid with). Even back in the Washington, DC of the late 90s, coming out was not an easy thing to do, so I responded to my friend’s trust by making a conscious effort to prove to myself that I was above petty homophobia.
Eventually it became normal for me to meet up with him for drinks at one of his gay hang-outs, where I learned that a man (even one’s with an exaggerated sense of his own self-worth) can survive perfectly well in the close vicinity of gay men without being harassed, molested, or otherwise turning into a sissy. But on my first outing (no pun intended), I had agreed to go to dinner with my friend, the guy he was now crazy about, and another gay friend.
Once again, this was the late 90s in the nation’s capital and while we were not living in completely intolerant times, the idea of sitting for dinner in public at a table with all gay guys was something I had to prep myself for. You see, as open as I thought I was (or even still think I am), I still had to get over the initial discomfort, fear, or whatever you want to call that stigma men get when their masculinity may be put into question.
And so before going to the dinner, I played out in my mind what the evening would be like; basically, me with three well dressed, savvy guys talking about interior decorating, fashion, and movie stars. Believe it or not, that sounded kind of fun.
As these things always go, the evening was not what I had expected. I showed up to meet two Republican lobbyists, sporting flannel shirts and baseball caps who spent the whole evening talking about college football. I hate college football and I despise the wearing of baseball caps indoors. It turned out that I was the gayest of the group, and the suspicions I have always had about college football were correct …
So when I read the story this week about the openly gay NFL prospect, I immediately recalled that night and couldn’t quite understand the scandal. Isn’t it obvious that football is the gayest sport in America?
Ultimately, straight men need to face the fact that there is something inherently homoerotic in spectator sports and the amount of time we – segregating ourselves from the women, hunched amongst our brethren – dedicate to worshiping the male anatomy in its communal, athletic splendor. And football is the worst of all. Unlike soccer (European football), where physical size does not determine success, professional football by definition is a sport limited only to supermen. Basketball would be just as bad if it weren’t for the fact that football requires ten times the number of male specimen to play, a wide assortment of equipment and accessories, and involves much more bending and huddling.
The apologists could argue that it is no coincidence that the most homophobic institutions are the ones where there is a perceived need for male togetherness free of sexual tension: the military, large sports teams, the Catholic clergy, and even congress. But if we can acknowledge that there are in fact gay men in the priesthood, the military or in congress — all high testosterone, male-centric institutions — then why is a gay football player so newsworthy or disturbing? Now, I don’t mean to be making any generalizations here. It’s just in my own limited personal experience, the only time I have ever had a dinner conversation about college football it was with gay Republican lobbyists. That doesn’t mean that all Republican lobbyists are gay.
It just means that football might be.