ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley’s thoughts on an openly gay NFL player
The Huffington Post ran an excellent interview of ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley. His credentials are much more simply being an ESPN personality, as the article points out: Wiley is “The Compton-born, Ivy-League graduate, retired NFL-All Pro Defensive End, co-host of ABC’s show ‘Winners Bracket’, ESPN Football Analyst.”
While the interview delved mostly into the topics of concussions in the sport, his Columbia schooling and that connection with President Obama, this question stood out:
“Manhattan’s Upper West Side is a pretty open, melting pot. And the NFL brings together a lot of different people. When do you think we will see an the first active gay NFL player?”
I’d like to pull apart Wiley’s lengthy response and interject my own thoughts. (His response will be in bold, italics, and quoted; my thoughts will follow.)
I guess the question caught him off-guard a bit, but by his remarks, the discussion was welcomed.
“I was just pondering this question a couple weeks ago when I was discussing one of my former teammates Esera Tuaolo who came out after retirement and said he was gay.”
I’m glad that active and former players ponder these questions and discuss them. It needs to happen more, publicly and privately. With more open discussion, the wall of homophobia will continually crumble.
“Quiet as it was kept, it was suspected when we were teammates in Buffalo, but never to the point where there was any hatred for him as a person — more a joke, more a comedy that people used to say stuff to him. I never thought twice about it until he retired and came out. Then I was like ‘Wow, they used to kind of make mention of that in the locker room.’”
It is no surprise that rumors float around in the locker room. It would be impossible to think otherwise considering the amount of time players spend with each other. I like that the rumor was not a “hatred” thing or that he never “thought twice about it”, but I also don’t think it should be a “joke” or “a comedy”.
“It would really be tough for a gay guy in the NFL, for the locker room to understand him as a homosexual — I’m not saying it’s impossible to pull off, but I’m saying right now the fear of coming out of the closet and more so coming out in the locker room would really be too tremendous to overcome.”
This is the juiciest part of the response. I know Wiley’s response is limited to the NFL, but let’s not forget that Glenn Burke was out to his team and his organization in the late 1970s in MLB. Dynamics may be different between baseball and football, but from what I’ve heard about locker room dynamics, the bigger fear comes from opposing teams and the risk of losing your livelihood. The locker room element cannot be ignored, but I’d argue it contributes less to keeping players in the closet than many other factors.
“It’s unfortunate because it shouldn’t be that way.”
“I understand that the locker room is pretty intimate. I do understand that there are 53 guys walking around nude at times and I do understand how guys may feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think that it should impair someone’s decision to live their life, have their freedoms and express themselves.”
Thank you, again.
“I don’t know whether that will be five, ten or twenty years from now but right now the NFL culture has no tolerance toward it.”
I often wonder this myself, and Wiley’s opinion is just one among many. While I agree that it could be 20 years before a player comes out, it also would not surprise me if I picked up the newspaper tomorrow and saw a player coming out on the front page.
Lastly, the NFL culture that has no tolerance needs to be challenged and tested. The Major Leagues didn’t have much tolerance for African Americans either, but Jackie Robinson’s courage was stronger than the intolerance.