National Football League
Goodell can bring gay tolerance to NFL
National Football League

Goodell can bring gay tolerance to NFL

Published Feb. 26, 2013 12:00 a.m. ET

The elephant in Manti Te’o’s room isn’t all that difficult to address.

Proper leadership from Roger Goodell’s office could fix the Te’o “problem” and move the Neanderthal sports world into the 21st century. For a commissioner looking for a Pete Rozelle-like legacy, Manti Te’o’s elephant has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Goodell could and should free the gays.

Let me stop there for a moment. I am not stating an opinion on Te’o’s sexuality. I don’t have any inside or outside information on Lennay Kekua’s widower. I do, however, believe Mike Florio of NBC’s ProfootballTalk is correct in his belief that the Notre Dame linebacker’s sexuality is a topic of high interest for his prospective NFL employers.


“It’s been described to me as the proverbial elephant in the room and I don’t think anyone knows how to solve this dilemma yet,” Florio said Monday on the Dan Patrick radio show. “It’s just that they (NFL team officials) want to know what they’re getting. They want to know what issues they may be dealing with down the road. We just assumed that at some point there would be an openly gay player in an NFL locker room and the team would have to work with the realities and make sure that everything is fine.”

Katie Couric already posed the question to Te'o, asking "Are you gay?"

"No, far from it. Faaar from it," Te'o responded.

The fallout from Te’o’s romantic relationship/publicity stunt with a fake dead male girlfriend should not be left to the Jeff Irelands of the NFL. The issue is too complex and important to leave to general managers, head coaches and Couric. The commissioner should intervene.


Because if Te’o is hiding in the closet, he is highly vulnerable to exploitation and extortion. There is a popular theory that the possibility of hustling money from Te’o — and not love — motivated Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the mastermind and voice behind Kekua.

It could all be a coincidence, but Te’o just happened to have a horrendous performance in the BCS Championship as the Kekua fraud was unraveling. Maybe he was distracted. Or maybe the wrong people knew his secrets.

Whatever the case, difficult questions must be asked, and they should come from the commissioner’s chair. It’s Goodell’s job to protect The Shield. It’s Goodell’s job to protect the employees.

The best protection for the league and the players is the freeing of the gays.

Let’s be honest. I think it’s reasonable to assume that 15 percent of NFL players are gay and/or bisexual. Generally speaking, they’re forced to conceal their sexuality out of fear of being ostracized and potentially released from the team.

They need to be set free, released from the grip of the most hostile work environment in America. Is there a more homophobic work setting than a football locker room? I can’t think of one.

I grew up in a football locker room. We wore our homophobia like a badge of honor. No one thought twice about using the F-word that rhymes with rag. Being gay was viewed as a disease that stripped you of all masculinity and most of your integrity.

I’m a product of that environment. It took many years for me to develop an enlightened, rational view of male homosexuality. (As a child, I had a lesbian aunt I was extremely close to.) I’m embarrassed to admit that my full enlightenment didn’t come until David Simon’s groundbreaking TV show “The Wire” exposed me to the character Omar, a stickup man who robbed drug dealers. Omar was the courageous, high-character hero of “The Wire.”

Heroes and role models are important. They can help us evolve and see people we don’t know more accurately and favorably. David Simon chose to make Omar a hero.

Goodell should use this Te’o situation as a convenient excuse to enact tough measures and standards of behavior that attempt to eliminate the homophobic hostility within football locker rooms. The league mishandled the anti-gay remarks Chris Culliver spoke before the Super Bowl. The 49ers defensive back should’ve been suspended.

There’s a terrific opportunity here for Goodell. He can make the NFL a zero-tolerance zone for homophobia. He can use the weight of his office and the power he wields because of the player-conduct policy to go after players and organizations that tolerate any form of sexuality discrimination. He could send a clear message the NFL commissioner is a friend to gays and will take every possible action to ensure they’re treated fairly. Goodell can create an environment that entices a closeted gay player to come out and be the hero/role model gay kids, parents of gay children and overgrown idiots need.

How can he accomplish all of this? He can start by partnering with gay-rights activists and establishing an oversight committee that investigates, monitors and trains NFL teams in issues related to anti-gay workplace hostility. He can then begin treating offenders with the same heavy hand he uses on players for illegal hits and off-field incidents.

Goodell, who has an openly gay brother, can be a real leader and carve out a legacy that rivals Pete Rozelle's.

No active professional football, basketball or baseball player has come out of the closet because no commissioner or owner has had the courage to hand him the key to unlocking the door.


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