The Cold, Hard Truth of a Gay Pro Football Player
By Andrew Belonsky
There's quite the show happening at Radio City Hall this week: the NFL Draft, an annual tradition in which gobs of well-proportioned men preen and pose for the nation's football teams, hoping all the while that they'll be Belle of the Ball.
As these straight men try to catch old coach's eye, a gay man named Alan Gendreau is working behind the scenes. Though not part of the official line-up on display over the next few days, 23-year-old Gendreau's well-positioned for consideration: the former Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders kicker ended his college career with 295 points, a record for the Sun Belt Conference. The fact that he's gay and a devout Christian has only made his story more noteworthy. It's certainly identifiable for conservatives unsure about putting gays in the locker room. "He defines himself as a good man, a Christian, an athlete," Howard Bragman, the gay PR guru who's representing Gendreau, told ABC News. "He has a lot of ways he defines himself. He's a well-rounded guy who happens to be gay."
The idea of having an openly gay football player has been a pipe dream for many gay activists and fans. It was something that could only happen after the archetypal "locker room culture" had been absorbed into a completely inclusive society. But now that it looks like it could very feasibly happen—quite organically, at that—and observers are all wondering whether this potential groundbreaking event will really be monumental. Will a gay player be mocked? Will teams, self-conscious in the locker room, start losing? Will advertisers or sponsors pull out, fearful of a right-wing backlash? The answer to these questions is most likely "no," and no doubt team owners aren't thinking along those lines anyway. To them, football's a business, and Gendreau's got major assets.
"The NFL is about winning. It's not about whether you're gay or straight," Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of the gay sports site OutSports, said in an interview with ABC. He later noted, "There is money to be made off Alan -- or any gay athlete. Whatever team signs him, they'll gain millions. Every poll shows you where this country sits on this issue. Jersey sales, ticket sales, people are going to spend their money. People say, 'whatever team you end up on, I'll be the first to buy your jersey."
And Kevin McClatchy, the gay former owner and manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, told us recently, "If you're the first gay athlete you're going to be embraced—especially from a marketing standpoint. I think people will be shocked by the outpouring of support that first out gay athlete will get."
Bragman notes that the entire conversation has changed. It's not about whether gays will throw the sport into turmoil, but how the sport impacts gays. "If someone were to come out, they'd make millions," he said. "They [have] always said if someone came out, it would be disruptive. A week before the Super Bowl, the story was that homophobia was what was being disruptive."
He's talking about how San Francisco 49ers player Chris Culliver took to the radio a week before the big game to say that closeted gay players "got to get up out of here." He was roundly and widely criticized and some say the distraction put them at a disadvantage against Super Bowl rivals The Ravens, who won by a slim three points.
That may be taking the argument to far, but the fact of the matter is that the gay footballer debate isn't just about equality and inclusion and lovey-dovey communities. It's about cash, cash that's cold, hard, and plentiful. Let's just hope that the scouts cruising Gendreau don't get too greedy and pick him for the wrong reasons.