El Universal, Mexico
An Anti-Gay Super Bowl?
By Lydia Cacho
It is obvious that there is a divide between homophobes and progressives inside the NFL, and this is no minor issue — recognizing this openly could transform the way in which non-heterosexuals experience football and sports in general.
Translated By Slava Osowska
4 February 2013
Edited by Lydia Dallett
Mexico - El Universal - Original Article (Spanish)
No sport (other than rugby) has such an intense concentration of pure and robust masculinity than American football. I’m writing this column as the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers vie for glory at the XLVII Super Bowl in New Orleans. But I’m not going to talk about what’s happening in the game, but rather what happened behind the scenes thanks to a scandal over whether there are gay players among the NFL greats.
It all began with Chris Culliver, cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers. This 25-year-old young man, originally from Philadelphia, fell into the grips of one of the most snake-like radio personalities in the United States, Howard Stern. The hirsute host asked Culliver if there are any gay guys on the team. The African-American responded without irony, “No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. Nah … can't be … in the locker room, man. Nah.”
The response was immediate — after all, it’s a scandal that in San Francisco – a city that is, in our neighbouring country, emblematic of LGBTTI* rights – a player would demonstrate his homophobia with such passion. The public relations department for the 49ers published an extremely heartfelt apology on behalf of Culliver, which, in short, said that the player didn’t mean what he said.
Adding insult to injury, the nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, 32, and the linebacker Ahmad Brooks, 29, both with the 49ers, publicly denied having consented to appear in a public service announcement for the prevention of bullying against gays in sports (apparently after being hounded by antigay fans). The video can be seen on YouTube at: “It gets better Issac Sopoaga” or http://youtu.be/h86A3N78uHs.** It is obvious that there is a divide between homophobes and progressives inside the NFL and this is no minor issue — recognizing this openly could transform the way in which non-heterosexuals experience football and sports in general.
We should ask Kwame Harris (the famous 49ers offensive tackle from Stanford who later went over to the Oakland Raiders, which he left a few years ago) what’s it’s like to live in hiding. Other players and some ESPN commentators were shocked when they found out that Harris was gay after he was arrested for fighting with Dimitri G, his ex-boyfriend who had lived with him for several years. Silence surrounded him. No one dared ask about his depression after so many years of hiding his sexual identity in order to be able to play a sport in which being a “real man” is valued above all else. What is certain is that, without wanting to, young Culliver sparked a pivotal debate inside the NFL. Although its leaders can reject diversity, like the military did in its day, perhaps they will have to learn to live in the real world, where recognition and respect for diversity strengthens the individual and makes us better people.
American football is admired by millions of men of all ages, who, in many cases, idolize, admire and follow the example of strength and professionalism of its players. In many ways, these players shape public opinion, are role models and, whether or not they like it, are part of the strengthening and renewal of certain cultural values.
As soon as the game is over, 49ers management has said it will send Culliver to sensitivity training on homophobia. For now, the conservative, anti-gay wing has won the battle, organizing this Super Bowl’s gospel celebration with its myriad of anti-LGBTTI singers. Regardless of whether they deny it, (in this case) sports are paradigmatic of masculinity and it’s high time for masculinity to be understood holistically. It’s unbelievable that these great athletes live in fear of harassment from their teammates, journalists and some members of the NFL.
Several famous athletes understood this. What would professional tennis be without the bravery of Martina Navratilova, who burst out of the closet, just as Amelie Mauresmo did later at the Australian Open? The WNBA and women’s basketball haven’t been the same since Sheryl Swoopes, the female Michael Jordan, set an example for young people with a singular idea: to be a champion is to be authentic.
*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex
**Editor’s note: The correct link for the “It Gets Better” video is “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5Zz0zxlPVo”
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