Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Cleated Closet

One of the interesting things about Super Bowl week is how it serves as a convenient time to launch all sorts of things that relate, even loosely, to football. Given that, tonight's lust fest showing of Anderson Cooper 360, featuring former NFL player Roy Simmons talking about his new book, should be no surprise to anyone.

Except this is that Roy Simmons. As in the one who came out, as gay, in front of daytime-TV-watching America on Donahue, in 1992.

And he's HIV-positive.

And the book itself, Out of Bounds, is meant to help men, especially African-American men, "be honest", as the author puts it, about their sexual preferences and their HIV status with their partners.

As I might have guessed, Keith Boykin was all over this, and published his own interview with Simmons about the book. You can also read other interviews with HIV-oriented and glbt publications on Simmons's website.

As a former high school and college football player myself, what Simmons is saying resonates with me on several levels. Football is not a sport that lends itself to emotional honesty; indeed, in many ways, it suppresses it. You're supposed to block pain, puke, blood, and the sight of your teammates being carried off to an ambulance out of your head. The whole language of the sport -- "gut it out", "buckle up your chinstrap", "leave it all on the field" -- has no words for uncertainty or doubt. You need to be a "real man" to play football -- confident, assured, cocky, and strong -- and those who aren't don't survive. The field is the only place where I've ever been told, "NDT, act first, think later."

Given that, it never surprises me when former players end up leading markedly-f'd up lives. Or that so many NFL players are so reluctant to let their kids play the sport that made them ridiculously rich and famous.

Or that so many gay men either leave the sport or stay buried within the closet in it.

There are several good points to take away from Simmons's story. One that I do wish to highlight, though, given the furor caused by my posting on it a few weeks ago, is the angle of Simmons's childhood molestation:

The article details the shame and isolation Simmons felt about being attracted to men and the central role the rape had. “Years later as an adult, he tortured himself wondering--often while drunk or high on drugs--if he would have been straight if he had not been assaulted,” Orth writes. “He blamed himself and suffered from a diminished sense of self-worth and confusion over his sexual identity. ‘I think all my life it affected me,’ he said. ‘The acting out--the sex with the boys, the girls — the drinking.’

Therein lies the danger of spreading a lie about molestation causing homosexuality that the antigay fundamentalists refuse to recognize. However, one wonders if Mr. Simmons will be assaulted by those gay fundamentalists who object to his associating in any way his molestation with his homosexuality and life issues, or, more particularly, with his choice of celibacy as a means of avoiding an immoral lifestyle, as ironically championed by selfsame fundies.

To which I say: You're OK, Roy. Choose what you think is important, rather than what others tell you is. You're a winner in my book either way.

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