The LGBT community continues to face marginalization to this day, but they may have finally found true and unbiased acceptance in the unlikeliest of places — the National Football League.
If it weren’t for Alan Gendreau’s sexual orientation, his football career would go wholly undocumented in major news outlets. He is a former placekicker for Middle Tennessee State, the all-time leading scorer in Sun Belt Conference history, went through a short hiatus after a disappointing senior season, and is now reigniting his NFL dreams at 23 years old.
Impressive, but that alone does not warrant prime time coverage from publications like the New York Times.
But he is gay. And for that reason, the public and media will brand him as the “pioneer” for all gay athletes in professional sports. Coverage of Gendreau’s fight to the NFL will be littered with proverbial gay rights dialogue. And if successful, his story will be a triumph for gays.
For the football community, however, Gendreau’s story has a much less inspiring and much less dramatic narrative — no one cares that he is gay.
Football is a meritocracy. A player is good if he is good, not if he is straight — and players know that sexual orientation in no way affects performance on the field. The NFL couldn’t care less that Gendreau is gay — what they do care about is his ability to hit 67-yard field goals.
And Gendreau isn’t asking for a Hail Mary pass into the NFL, either. “I’m a kicker that happens to be gay,” Gendreau said. “It’s a part of who I am, and not everything I am. I just want to be known as a normal kicker.”
Middle Tennessee State, home of the Blue Raiders, is a dominantly Christian school. The team has its own chaplain. Neither of those niceties would inspire much hope in a gay rights advocate — but the fact remains. An entire football team, deeply rooted in the Bible belt, not only accepted Gandreau — they respected him on and off the field.
“Everyone just saw him as a football player,” Gendreau’s former college teammate Josh Davis said. “He was just one of the guys. The fact that he proved himself on the field, there was a respect for him.”
Football, of all things, crushed the ideological gay-or-straight binaries that our very own government and frankly, most of the public, can’t seem to get over.
“His sexual orientation is not going to matter one bit,” said super agent Leigh Steinberg. “The only thing that matters is if he can put that ball between those goal posts. If he can do that, and if he can do it consistently, he’ll have a shot at the NFL.”
Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to change our narrative of gays in prominent positions. The NFL may not outwardly be allying themselves with the LGBT community, but that isn’t because they do not accept gays — it’s because it has nothing to do with football. By putting all this emphasis on Gendreau sexual orientation, it puts too much attention on his career as a whole, which could lead to added hype, and could potentially hurt his chances of going pro.
So let the media rest with the gay Gendreau coverage. The NFL couldn’t care less about his homosexuality — why should we?