New things and new events always prompt attention. That attention is even more pronounced today because of social media, a plethora of ravenous “reporters”, and an assumed privilege we Americans have come to accept as a birthright – the “need to know” syndrome.
Somehow, we, of the “right to privacy” nation, have come to believe that our own activities, proclivities, and goings on are protected. On the other hand, we are led to believe by the business of “news” that we have a “right” to know what others are doing or have done no matter how private or intimate they may be.
A few days ago, a college football player from the University of Missouri who is preparing for the NFL draft announced his gender preference. It has caused a hail storm of praise and controversy.
There are those who believe that his preference for men as opposed to women will bring about some kind of dissension and discord not only in his locker room, but in the NFL – and that such a person will set an ominous example for the youth who admire and idolize football players.
The entire issue hinges on what are considered social “norms” versus “aberrant” behavior – behavior which, by the way, is in opposition to the teachings of most Western religions. There has been subtle outrage and high praise for this players’ announcement and NFL players have been interviewed by every possible news outlet from coast to coast.
Few of those interviewed believe it will have a significant impact on their respective teams and, as we who have played know, the locker room is a different environment too foreign for most to understand. For those who have never lived in such a crucible as a locker room, suffice it to say that a locker room is a team’s sacred sacristy, that place they prepare to engage the opponent and unify their courage, their commitment, and their pledges to each other. And anything which disrupts or violates that sacred place is anathema!
So what are we to make of a young man, who prefers the intimate company of men, who comes into that locker room? The sports “opinionists” (my nomenclature for the frenzied cabal of gossip mongers in sport) either want to praise this young man or prompt some kind of negative utterance to promote their “exclusive” story.
They are the rapacious hyenas of the sports reporting world and care little about the collateral damage which may ensue in the wake of their insidious chronicles. They flame the fears and suspicions rampant in any community no matter what its dimension.
Yet, the sad fact is that they simultaneously reflect, in some measure, the ideals and the apprehensions of the society from which they emerge. Hence, it is we who must take a moment and gauge exactly what we as a society and we as individuals consider when such a story as this breaks.
By and large, Americans are a forgiving and understanding collection of successes and failures. We value our individual privacy, but we want to protect those tenets we hold dear. Anything which threatens them precipitates scrutiny, even rage.
The question of gender preference has been called a civil right and those who wish to practice this choice of preference often claim similarity to the racial civil rights movements. Whether or not one accepts this view is not the point, however. The point is that each of us has the right to be treated with respect and civility.
On the other hand, we make decisions, which turn into choices, which turn into actions – and we are judged by the actions we take. If our actions prompt us to foist our controversial views on others, we cannot claim a protected status if by promoting those views we limit the views of others.
Men who feel threatened by the gender preference claimed by this football player might want to examine what is in their hearts. Why are they threatened? What possible actions could this young player take which would make them feel vulnerable? Is there something within their own hearts which creates discomfort with that kind of preference?
Ultimately, the team will have to come to terms with this player’s decision and what will ameliorate any tension will depend on what kind of contribution he makes to the team’s success. If he chooses, on the other hand, to proselytize and use his position on the team to promote his lifestyle, then he must bear the consequences whatever they may be. It is then that, in my opinion, he cannot claim a protected status.
Because the issue of gender preference has become such a media tinderbox for sports scribes, the progress of this young man in his NFL quest will be followed with great interest and anticipation. Every morsel of attitude or perceived antagonism will be pounced upon by the sports media jackals and bled to the last drop for micro-analysis.
But inasmuch as this young player’s behavior indicates no inclination to serve as the poster model for gender preference “rights”, my surmise is that he will succeed in the NFL – that the team which drafts him will give him every opportunity for success – and that the sacred halls of that team’s locker room will remain sacrosanct.
While the locker room is a microcosm of our social structure, it is also a very special place unique to that team and to the cohesion developed by its individual members – and it is my firm belief that this particular locker room will transcend the banality of the hollow storms which rage about outside it.