April 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM
Sexuality in the NFL: Why the league always comes first
By Rachel Binns Terrill
Rachel Binns Terrill, Ph.D., is an instructor at Northwest University in Kirkland and spent seven years in the field studying NFL relationships while her husband Craig Terrill played for the Seattle Seahawks from 2004 to 2011. She writes about love and marriage on her website www.rachelterrill.com and is working on a book about love in the NFL.
Rumors are swirling in sports blogs about a group of current NFL players who may go public with their homosexuality. It is no surprise that this seems like a big deal to fans in a league where machismo is mandatory and sexuality is celebrated with short skirts on the sideline and bikini babes on beer commercials.
As a feminist taught to believe in equal rights, I was taken aback when I read Seahawks’ Chris Clemons tweet asking, “Who on Gods earth is this person saying he’s coming out of the closet in the NFL?” He later added, “I’m not against anyone but I think it’s a selfish act. They just trying to make themselves bigger than the team.”
Publicly expressing sexuality makes one bigger than the team? Craig and I never tried to hide our love for each other during his seven years in the NFL. He never felt that he had to hide his heterosexuality. Pictures of me hung in his locker. I was invited to the Seahawks Wives’ luncheons, and we kissed near the end zone before every game. He was not ashamed of our relationship, and neither was the team.
As an academic who champions equal rights, I am appalled that Clemons thinks that coming out might be detrimental to a team’s cohesiveness.
As the wife of a former NFL player, I understand his perspective. The unwritten truth in the NFL is that the NFL always comes first.
There is a top-down pecking order in the National Football League. The league regulates the rules for each team. The upper management for each team tells the coaches how they should behave and which players will make the roster. The head coach is in charge of his position coaches and, finally, the position coaches are in charge of the players.
Like blue-collar construction workers building an empire from which they will soon depart, NFL players put in the labor to build the team for which they play. They are told when to be there, how hard to swing the hammer, and when they can go home. As long as they are employed by the team, the NFL comes first.
Clemons has been in the NFL long enough to know that the league works hard to ensure that players don’t let their personal lives interfere with the game.
In 2011, four-time pro-bowler Troy Polamalu was fined $10,000 by the NFL for calling his wife during the game to let her know that he was OK after suffering concussion-like symptoms. The fine was for having a cellphone on the sideline, but the league’s choice to enforce the rule under such circumstances clearly shows where a player’s priorities must be.
During training camp, players are sequestered from their families for a month each summer. It is arguably the most difficult time in an NFL player’s career. While in training camp, an NFL player’s marriage to the league leaves his spouse as the secret mistress. He must sneak away to call home and hang up the phone quickly if management comes near. In his few hours away from practice and meetings each day, players sometimes sneak home to see their families. But afterward, players must return to training camp. They have to sleep with the NFL at night.
In this retro-world of relationships, it comes as little surprise that players like Clemons might think homosexuality is best kept silently in the closet.
What might the NFL look like if the closet doors hiding homosexuality were cracked open?
My husband and I had a ritual before each of his games. When I arrived at the stadium, wearing his jersey and his number around my neck, I found my way down to the front row of the end zone to watch him warm up. Before he went back to the locker room, we held hands, prayed together for his safety and then shared a kiss. After one particularly thrilling playoff victory, I leapt from the end zone wall into Craig’s arms. Cameras captured our love for each other as he spun me around like a prince just reunited with his princess.
Will there ever be a time when a prince can leap from the sidelines into the arms of his beloved? My guess is that as long as sexuality on Sundays is defined as short skirts on the sideline and bikini babes in beer commercials, the NFL will silently do all it can to keep the closet doors closed.
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