By Kali Lynch
Remember all those time that you sat in an interview and had the person ask you if you liked men or women? Oh wait you haven’t? Oh. Well, I guess that’s strictly an NFL requirement. Oh… but wait. It’s not supposed to be. It’s actually illegal. It’s truly no secret that the NFL has an issue with gay men playing in their league, for a number of reasons that will be discussed a little further down, which adds to the claim that the NFL has priority issues due to its emphasis on questioning sexuality of players rather than focusing solely on talent and the game of football itself.
The NFL is a huge supporter of Hegemonic Masculinity. Don’t worry, I was a bit intimidated with this phrase the first time I read it too. This theory is simple and as soon as I explain it, you will do an Ohhh! I get it.
Hegemonic Masculinity is described by Nick Trujillo as “the culturally idealized form of masculine character” which emphasizes “the connecting of masculinity to toughness and competitiveness” as well as “the subordination of women” and wait for it… “the marginalization of gay men.” He claims that “this idealized version of masculinity becomes hegemonic when it is widely accepted in a culture and when that acceptance reinforces the dominant gender ideology of the culture.”
The NFL supports this hegemonic type of masculinity because of the wide acceptance it has gained throughout the organization. This in turn makes it an organization that is not evolving with the rest of the world due to tradition, coaches, managers, literally every reason under the sun. They’re kind of like that old grandpa that mumbles something racist under his breath in a rocking chair on his front porch in the middle of the summer in Huntsville Alabama when a black family walks by.
From this explanation of hegemonic masculinity, a claim can be made saying the NFL supports and cares about upholding the values of hegemonic masculinity more so than upholding the integrity of the game of football.
To summarize the theory of hegemonic masculinity, it is basically what it means to be a man and that entails being a strong, successful, powerful, straight male. There are tons of cases that support the claim that the NFL supports and reflects the values of hegemonic masculinity. It is a well known fact, at least among NFL fans, that there has never been and are currently no openly gay players that have ever played in an in season game of football in the NFL. Ever.
Being a strong, successful, powerful, straight male is a theme that is so obvious in the NFL that it might as well be written into their mission statement, which you can take a look at here. To save you trip, it clearly states that “Everyone matters. Everyone contributes. In a game of X’s and O’s, we embrace all people for who they are regardless of status, title or background. We celebrate diverse opinions and perspectives. We honor hard work and commitment. Every contribution makes us better.”
Embracing all people for who they are regardless of status, title, or background? I don’t think Michael Sam would agree with that sentence at all.
Michael Sam was the first gay player that got drafted in the NFL, but unfortunately his career did not last long, and he never played in an in season game. Sam was predicted to be drafted in between rounds 2 and 4 before he came out, but after the fact, he fell 70 spots overnight on the CBS draft prospective board. By the end of the draft, Michael Sam was drafted in the 7th round by the St. Louis Rams but only ended up playing in the preseason.
There have been claims made that Sam shouldn’t have made the mistake of coming out before the draft, or that he was not good enough for the NFL in the first place. A man that was the SEC defensive player of the year, weighs 261 and is 6’2 doesn’t just drastically drop 70 spots in the NFL draft for no good reason. It was simply because he came out as gay.
Unfortunately, that was justified in the NFL. People told him it was a mistake and he shouldn’t have done it. Sam coming out as gay was a deal breaker for the draft he was included in due to the way the NFL supports hegemonic masculinity. There are 5 traits that are including in hegemonic masculinity, one of those being Heterosexuality. Michael Sams case is one that offers explicit support that the NFL is supporting hegemonic masculinity rather than truly caring about the talent of the players and integrity of the game due to his predicted round dropping.
To top off the Michael Sam Case, here is an instance that allegedly happened with Derrius Guice. The NFL is strangely obsessed with asking prospective players questions among the lines of “are you gay?” or “do you like men?” or “do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend?” so naturally they aske this to Guice at combine.
Guice was a second round draft pick that got scooped up by the Washington Redskins in the 2018 NFL draft back in April. He was previously a running back for LSU and scored 6.14 in the combine making him qualify as an instant starter for whenever he gets going on the team. He was the 27th pick in the second round, which is probably accredited to his 4.49 40 yard dash time and the fact that he can run and catch the football. As you can see, there’s no question that this man deservers a spot on a pro team due to his talent and hard work, but unfortunately, for one NFL coach, that wasn’t enough.
Guice said in an interview that happened before the draft, an NFL team asked about this sexuality. To top that off, another dared to pose the question about his mom being a prostitute. These questions were not confirmed, but knowing the track record the NFL has with asking players if they are gay, these allegations are not surprising.
Yeah NFL, that’s incredibly relevant to how fast he can run 40 yards. It’s a good thing you didn’t forget to ask that pressing question.
To make situations better, whoops I mean worse, he was told “to come prepared” for the combine and everything that comes with it.
Excuse me but this is a bit outrageous. First of all, the fact that he was told to come prepared is a problem in and of itself. This “warning” just further supports the argument that they are not solely focused on the talent and ability of the players and just proves that teams have a hidden agenda, one that supposedly requires finding out if any of their mothers were prostitutes and if they like men or not.
Along with this hidden agenda, this instance with Derrius Guice further supports the fact that the NFL upholds the values of hegemonic masculinity more than the integrity of the game of football by having to slide in those sly questions about sexuality. As the Michael Sam case supported the trait of being heterosexual, this instance supports this trait as well. There was no good reason to ask Derrius about his sexuality other than the desire to uphold the heterosexual tait of hegemonic masculinity.
Along with upholding the heterosexual trait, the NFL upholds to 3 other traits included in hegemonic masculinity.
The first is occupational success, meaning being successful in an occupation. Pretty much all players that make it to the NFL have been successful in their football career.
The second is physical force and control, literally meaning that men have physical power, on and off the football field.
The third is familial patriarchy which is having male dominance over women, which is evident since there are no women playing in the NFL.
Clearly, the NFL cares a great deal about all of these traits, and cares a whole lot about the heterosexuality of players due to always having to ask about players sexuality.
Ultimately, I do not think that the NFL has their priorities straight. They put the values of hegemonic masculinity above the game of football which is incredibly unfortunate due to the amount of potential there is for teams to have more talent. Players cannot truly be themselves if they want to succeed in the NFL and if they are gay, they are pressured to not come out until after they retire. After the analysis of Michael Sam and Derrius Guice through a hegemonic masculine lense, I think it is clear to say that the NFL has some serious changes to be made. And maybe those changes should start from the players and grow up into leadership positions.
Until then, we can just hope that maybe in the near future there will be a player that embraces homosexuality as much as Kayne embraces himself, and have the talent of every hall-of-famer combined, that they won’t be able to turn him down.