After Dr. Phil stepped in and set the world straight (no pun intended), the Manti Te’o story seemed to fade into the abyss—kind of like Notre Dame’s undefeated season in the national championship game. But on Monday Te’o’s name again popped up on my Twitter feed.
Towleroad and Outsports both posted a clip of an interview with NFL analyst Mike Florio on the Dan Patrick Show. Florio, who was speaking about Te’o’s performance at the NFL Combine, claimed that NFL teams want to know if Manti Te’o is gay. Florio called it the “elephant in the room.”
The big news last week was that college football great and NFL no-so-great Tim Tebow had cancelled his April speaking engagement at the First Baptist Church of Dallas—if you haven’t heard by now it’s a megachurch headed by pastor Robert Jeffress, who isn’t really keen on gays and lesbians, the Mormon, Jewish or Muslim faiths, or President Obama. And of course the media is now being credited and, in some cases, blamed for Tebow’s decision.
This week San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver said, according to Yahoo! Sports, a gay player would not be welcomed in the 49er locker room. Culliver, who will be playing in today’s Super Bowl, made the remarks during a radio interview with Artie Lange. The comments have made their rounds this week from blog to blog with several different analyses.
Some have argued that Culliver’s comments are a broader reflection of homophobia in sports, and others see his comments as an anomaly—a relic leftover from a sports world that is transitioning to a more open and welcoming venue for LGBTQ athletes.
Video of Culliver’s comments
I happen to agree with the latter, at least in part. The sports world is changing or at least the expectations are changing. Culliver’s comments and the backlash from the media, his teammates and coaches, and players from other teams and leagues are proof that expectations are different, even for athletes, when it comes to how the mainstream discusses LGBTQ people and issues. Athletes are expected to be inclusive in both their actions and language.
This change, although not completely new, is amazing when you consider media history.
Think back to the 1950s when “homosexuals” were talked about—in the media—as threats to national security. The media helped fuel the Lavender Scare by reporting on the potential destruction of the country at the hands of “sexual perverts.”
In the 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the United States the press, once again, fed fears and stirred homophobia by attaching language like “Gay Plague” or “Gays’ Disease” to a disease of unknown origin or expiration.
So this week—not the first it just stands out because of the Super Bowl and its tie in to sports—has been a refreshing experience. Among other big stories for the LGBTQ community, Culliver was held responsible for his comments in the media and, in the end, sparked a conversation that needed to be had.
Visibility hasn’t always been easy to come by for the LGBTQ community when it comes to mainstream media coverage—especially in sports. But conversations like the one this week or stories about straight allies in the sports world like Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is also playing in today’s game, keep the community, or at least parts of the community, out front.
Sports Illustrated’s photo of two gay 49ers fans kissing in a San Francisco bar this week is more proof that statements like the one Culliver made are aberrant (coinsidentaly another term used by the media in the 1950s and 1960s to describe gay and lesbian men and women).
My only question at this point: Is the entirety of the LGBTQ community benefitting in this change, or are large segments of the community excluded from visibility and mainstream inclusion? Is this a case of gay/masculine visibility trumping a broader queer perspective? Tell me what you think.
Since I wrote about the Manti Te’o gay rumors last week, I thought I should follow up on the rumor mill and discuss Katie Couric’s interview with the soon-to-be NFL rookie.
In the interview, which you’ve probably already seen but posted here if you haven’t, Couric asked Te’o, are you gay? His answer seemed odd at best, but he did say he was not gay (far from it to be exact).
The exchange, which happens at about the 1:40 mark in this video, seems a bit too forced and almost rehearsed. I’m not suggesting Te’o is gay and that he’s lying, FARRRR from it. I’m only suggesting that it is odd that in 2013, he has to give himself so much distance from being anything other than heterosexual.
His “FAR from that” comment says so much about what he thinks queerness means for his professional football career. Recently more and more researchers and sports pundits have argued that the world of sport is becoming less and less homophobic and more and more ready for an openly gay, male professional athlete (see Outsports.com’s blogs on the subject).
The problem is we won’t know until someone comes out. We won’t know how his teammates will respond or how the press will cover the story. We won’t know if sponsors will flock to the uniqueness of the event or stay away for fear of backlash. We don’t know if any of these things or any other scenarios will play out until some has the courage to say they are FAR from being ashamed and proud to be an out athlete.
Until then we have to call out exchanges like the one between Te’o and Couric for what they are. Unwarranted, fear-induced denials. Do you see an issue with his response? Why does he have to be FAR from being gay and not just straight? Do you think he would have said he is gay during that interview?
Yesterday I came home from class to find Twitter had exploded—almost literally. Deadspin’s article uncovering Manti Te’o’s GirlfriendGate was everywhere, and so were the jokes, rumors and speculation. One of the most interesting questions being asked, at least to me, were the speculations regarding Te’o’s sexuality. Many have asked whether or not the entire hoax may have been concocted to conceal the fact that Te’o is gay.
What if this is exactly that—a very odd beard scheme? Does that make the actions excusable? I can understand why he might fake a girlfriend if this were the case. But wouldn’t it just be easier and less umm fraud-like to just play the “I’m waiting until marriage” card like everyone else?
I can’t lie an openly gay college star that was headed to a first round draft spot would be an almost instant icon for the gay community. A first in so many ways. The first out NCAA Division 1 football player. The first out and active NFL player. The first out and active male professional athlete in the United States. After so many years of waiting and speculating as to who would be the first openly gay professional male athlete and what would happen to that person’s career, the gay community would have its star, its answers and its validation in the sports world.
Okay maybe that’s a lot to ask. But I don’t think it’s too far from the truth.
A quick search for blogs about Te’o gay rumors yielded your usual suspects of speculation and homophobic garbage. The Blue Board on 247 Sports dedicated a thread to the question, “So Manti Te’o gay?” The responses ranged from armchair psychoanalysis as to his motives to hurling around “gay” as an insult to his masculinity and athletic ability. And that’s where this gets into dangerous territory.
Speculating that Te’o may actually be gay and that he fabricated this story and person to hide his sexuality for fear of being “outed” is understandable. Would it be a misguided attempt to play it straight? Yes. He wouldn’t be the first athlete to hide his sexuality for fear of losing his job, but he might be the first to win an Oscar while doing it. Speculation of this sort has some legs. Maybe not legs that can yet stand but still it has some semblance of a reasonable thought.
What I find problematic is the folks hurling, “Te’o is gay,” as an affront or an assault on his playing abilities, his intellect or his masculinity. Being an openly gay football player is not a negative. Being an openly homophobic troll IS a negative.
Is it probable that Te’o is gay and will come out? Not really. It’s more likely that Te’o, and those around him, saw an opportunity to score points with Heisman voters (and I’m sure it scored a lot of points). Tyler Moorehead of College Spun reported that his Notre Dame teammates claimed that he still had “relations” with other women during the time he was allegedly involved with “Lennay Kekua.” Unless they’re all imaginary—which hasn’t been ruled out—it’s more likely that Te’o saw a big fat check at the end of the publicity rainbow and not the other rainbow.