Since Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in a major American sport last week, several athletes are rumored to be following in his footsteps. Now that everyone has exhausted the “what if we had a gay athlete?” question, focus has shifted to how openly gay players would be treated in the locker room.
Last week, Pat McAfee of the Indianapolis Colts was one of the first straight athletes to speak on the issue, saying “I think it’s a generational thing. Our locker room, a younger generation, is very much more accepting because we’ve been around more gay people.”
While all the hype may make it seem like a fresh issue, there’s one man everyone seems to be forgetting about—a man that embraced and accepted gay athletes well before they became national news.
According to athletes that played for legendary former Packers and Redskins coach Vince Lombardi, he wasn’t just aware that some of his players were gay, he was vigilant in making sure they were treated equally both on the field and off.
“My father was way ahead of his time,” said Vince’s daughter, Susan Lombardi, in an interview with ESPN. “He was discriminated against as a dark-skinned Italian American when he was younger, when he felt he was passed up for coaching jobs that he deserved. He felt the pain of discrimination, and so he raised his family to accept everybody, no matter what color they were or whatever their sexual orientation was. I think it’s great what Jason Collins did, because it’s going to open a lot of doors for people. Without a doubt my father would’ve embraced him, and would’ve been very proud of him for coming out.”
In 1969, Lombardi helped Redskins running back Ray McDonald make the team after having been arrested for having sex with another man in public. Additionally, he was aware of a romantic relationship between two Redskins players (Dave Kopay and Jerry Smith) in the same year.
If accepting openly gay athletes in 1969 was a no-brainer for one of the most prolific coaches of his time, why is it even an issue in 2013?