It took a lot of courage for football player Michael Sam to come out, especially since he has the potential to be the first openly gay player in the NFL. The reaction to his coming out underscores just how big of a challenge he’s facing from leaders in the league.
The most outrageous reaction came from Herm Edwards, the former head coach for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. In a bizarre and rambling interview on ESPN where he is a commentator, Edwards went the whole nine yards in terms of homophobic code language, talking about “off-the-field issues” and “bringing baggage into your locker room.” (It didn’t help that Edwards couldn’t get Sam’s last name right, either.)
“When you go into the draft, look at it this way,” Edwards began. “Let’s say Michael Sams [sic] is not a gay player, but he’s a player that has some issues, off the field issues. The thing you talk about in the organization with the GM and obviously the owner is, can we handle this guy? Can we handle the media that’s going to come along with his situations?”
Not content to leave bad enough alone, Edwards continued: “He’s bringing baggage into your locker room. So when you think about Michael Sams [sic], all the sudden, can the players handle the media attention they’re going to get when they get the question asked, ‘Are you OK with a gay teammate?’”
This is not entirely surprising coming from Edwards, who is famous for two things other than being fired from his last head coaching job. He was a leader in the right-wing Promise Keepers, an evangelical group that encourages men to take leadership from their wives in their own homes, and his bizarre “cupcheck” incident, in which he nailed fellow ESPN employees in the balls to see if the were wearing, well, protection.
Seems pretty clear that Edwards would not be. He’s not alone either. A number of more PR-savvy NFL figures have been providing anonymous (and offensive) comments to the media along the same lines.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” an unnamed NFL player personnel assistant told Sports Illustrated. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Note that SI took it upon itself to delete the slur in question. You can probably supply it on your own. That someone would think it’s okay to use it in a conversation with the media just shows what an uphill battle Sam is facing.
Photo credit: ESPN