The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on two landmark cases involving same-sex marriage this week, a cause that a growing number of NFL players are publicly supporting.
Scott Fujita and Domonique Foxworth, like other NFL players who have spoken out in support of gay rights, think open acceptance is rapidly approaching. CBS Sports.com’s Mike Freeman writes that a “current gay NFL player is strongly considering coming out publicly within the next few months — and after doing so, the player would attempt to continue his career.”
That’s something that no other player has done, but Fujita, a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, writes in the New York Times that that day is quickly nearing. The father of three daughters, he says he’ll tell his girls about how society has slowly, inexorably moved away from intolerance and toward acceptance.
They will learn that couples of different races, like their grandparents, were once denied the right to marry. But at least I’ll be able to say, “Thanks to a Virginia couple named Richard and Mildred Loving, things are better now.”
At some point, they will hear the term “separate but equal,” and will learn there was a time when their father would not have been able to go to the same school or sit in the same restaurant with many of the same friends that he now shares an NFL locker room with. But then I can say to them, “That was a long time ago, and look how far we’ve come.”
I anticipate us having similar conversations about women’s suffrage or Rosa Parks. And each time, I’ll be able to say that this country moved toward progress. Sometimes, change is slow, but when we know better, we do better.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenges California’s law against marriage equality. “When we advance the idea that some people should be treated differently because of who they are,” they wrote, “demeaned in public as lesser beings, not worthy of the same rights and benefits as others despite their actions as good citizens and neighbors, then we deny them equal protection under the laws. America has walked this path before, and courageous people and the Court brought us to the right result. We urge the Court to repeat those actions here.”
Ayanbadejo made headlines last fall for tangling with a Maryland politician over same-sex marriage and has spoken out about bullying, too. In a column in USA Today after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, he likened the first openly gay player, whomever he might be, to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier. “This is our time and our cause,” Ayanbadejo wrote. “Everything we know as athletes, teammates, spokesmen and vehicles of American pastimes compels us toward the kind of action and camaraderie we saw from Pee Wee Reese nearly 66 years ago [with Robinson]. It’s as simple as putting our arm around the shoulder of another athlete. It’s a gesture; it’s a pledge; it’s solidarity at its most basic. Our Jackie is coming. We need to pave the way.”
But first the player must take that step forward. Only last month, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver apologized for homophic comments that brought the discussion of gay rights onto the Super Bowl’s big media-day stage. Freeman writes that the player who is considering whether to come out is more concerned with reaction from fans than from teammates.
Foxworth, the president of the NFL Players Association, wrote in USA Today that “many NFL players see what everyone else in this country sees — the growing support for marriage equality. We believe that denying people basic rights and protections simply because of who they are and whom they love is wrong.” He continued:
To play football, you have to be physically and mentally tough, and it makes no difference if you’re straight or gay. Doing 50 sets of squats, playing through pain or being that last man standing after a grueling two-a-day workout is considered “tough” in football. That’s one definition of a tough guy, and it has come to define our league.
But there’s another standard we believe in, and that’s standing up for anyone — in the game or not — who has been ridiculed, ostracized or rejected. We won’t stand for that behavior in our locker rooms, on the playing field or in life. And that’s why we hope that when the first openly gay NFL player steps forward, he will find not a wall of opposition, but a strong and caring defensive line. We’ll have his back.