Will Life Imitate Art?: TV NFL Player Comes “Out”

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I have long believed life imitates art.  Leonardo da Vinci conceptualized a helicopter and a tank centuries before they were “invented.”  The pioneering submarine designer, Simon Lake, credited his inspiration to Jules Verne’s science fiction story, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”  It seems to me if we humans can envision it, it can happen and does.  Man on the moon?  Done.  The only invention we can’t have, according to my engineer nephew, is the time machine of H.G. Wells.  Darn!  That’s the one I want!

Television reality becomes reality as well.  We had our first Black President  years before 2008 on “24.”  We got a smart-staffed White House after “West Wing.”  Which brings me to the subject of this piece.  The last two episodes of my namesake show, “Necessary Roughness,” dealt with the first active professional team athlete “coming out.”  The NFL quarterback on the show sees our heroine sports psychologist before he admits he is gay to the star wide receiver, hoping if he gets this leader’s support, the rest of the team will follow.  The season ends with his announcement to the press in front of the team. . .fade to black . . .tune in next season for the thrilling conclusion.

And you bet I will.  This is an idea whose time has come, and I am eager for the sports world to step up to the reality plate.  It’s in the air:  Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said he hoped this year’s Super Bowl would be a platform to discuss LGBT rights.  He had no idea San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver would respond disparagingly to the question if he’d ever accept a gay teammate.  What a disappointment.  Athletes are role models, so it does make a difference if they are modeling inclusion and respect for our LGBT friends and family.  When NFL players like Ayanbadejo, Chris Kluwe, and Scott Fujita speak out for gay rights, they are also implicitly speaking out against rigid, crushing, social constructions that define “manliness” in abstract, way-outdated terms.

We have a ways to go.  The actor in “Necessary Roughness” portrayed a very worried character—especially in the locker room.  My brother, who is an MD psychiatrist, explained: on the field, players wear helmets with dark visors and pads—almost like armor.  They are larger than life superheroes, named “Megatron” and such.  They are living their fantasy, and it’s a game.  Once they get in the locker room, it starts to be over, and they have to transition to the real world.  The locker room is where they feel most vulnerable.  The armor comes off; they are beat up, hurting.  Your team is your family:  they depend on their teammates to help them get back to functioning human beings.  There is talk; they know your private business in the locker room.  This information made me realize why honesty would start in the locker room.  And the truth is there are gay players right now in the NFL.  We do have players who are taking baby steps toward acceptance, and being on the right side of history.  Terrell Suggs is a big, tough defensive linebacker.  When asked if he would object to having a gay teammate, Suggs said, “Absolutely not . . .whatever a person’s choice is, it’s their choice.  On this team, with so many different personalities, we just accept people for who they are, and we don’t really care too much about a player’s sexuality.  To each their own.  You know who you are, and we accept you for it.”

It’s a step, and I certainly hope the whole locker room on “Necessary Roughness” feels that way.  More than hope:  if my theory that life imitates art and tv, it WILL happen.

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