By Alan Robinson
INDIANAPOLIS—SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam of Missouri revealed in advance of the NFL Draft process that he’s gay. If Sam ends up being drafted and playing in the NFL, he would be the first openly gay athlete in the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.
The question is: Who’s next to step out of the closet?
A figure skating coach — yes, a figure skating coach — says he knows there are gay players in the NFL because they have personally asked him out on dates.
Take a few moments to re-read that sentence.
But, first, some background.
When I interviewed former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe last spring — he is a married father of two who is a strong advocate of gay rights — he predicted that multiple NFL players were ready to reveal they were gay. He said he personally didn’t know any such players, but that other players around the league told him they had gay teammates who, for the moment, preferred not to reveal their sexual identity.
“Guys knew, but they didn’t say anything,” Kluwe said.
Kluwe, among other NFL players, said it’s regrettable that four-letter words are thrown out constantly in NFL locker rooms, but one three-letter word, gay, remains verboten.
Still, the door to the closet appears to be opening, even if only slightly. In a survey of 51 NFL players by ESPN, 86 percent said they would be comfortable having a gay teammate. None of the players who took part in the survey were identified. And there were multiple reports last fall that at least one and possibly more NFL players were ready to come out, but chose at the last minute not to do so — apparently because they didn’t want to be known forever as the first to identify themselves.
Now, Doug Mattis, a gay figure skating coach and former figure skating competitor, has made some interesting comments to writer Blair Braverman in a Buzzfeed.com story about figure skating entitled “Why Is the World’s Gayest Sport Struck in the Closet?”
While male figure skaters often are perceived to be mostly gay because of the very nature of a sport in which glittery costumes, feathers and sequins are the uniform of the day, Mattis told Braverman that the sport is less gay than many people think it is.
Football? He’s not so sure.
“I’ve been asked out by more pro football players than skaters,” Mattis told Braverman. “I tell them, `Please! You’d crush me.”
Mattis, of course, did not identify any players or even hint which teams they played for. There is no way to known if he was telling the truth, or simply being dramatic to make his point that figure skating isn’t the gay bastion that it has long been perceived to be.
Regardless, it is another hint — even if only anecdotal — that there are gay players in the NFL, and it is only a matter of time in which more choose to come out. And the more players that do, the less impactful each such disclosure is likely to be.
Sam, by the way, will meet with reporters Saturday at the NFL Combine in what should be one of the more interesting – and most-attended — news conferences of the weekend.