On Monday, NBA player Jason Collins disclosed that he is gay, making him the first active openly homosexual athlete in the four major American pro team sports.
His coming out has been the big sports story of the week and has lots of people talking -- CNN contributor Will Cain and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe are no exception. Here's their discussion:
Will Cain: Chris, you, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita have done a noble job offering support to closeted gay NFL players. If I played in the NFL -- preferably for the Dallas Cowboys -- I would join you. A few months ago, you wrote a column on CNN.com laying out your position. I could not have joined you on that. I think you went too far when you said:
Players -- Those of you worried about a gay teammate checking out your ass in the shower, or hitting on you in the steam room, or bringing too much attention to the team -- I have four simple words for you. Grow the f*** up.
I am a pro-gay marriage conservative. And I'm pretty damn confident in my sexuality. If we all get naked and go to brunch, I'm not going to be uncomfortable. But that's not a standard I expect of everyone. Yet, all of sudden, this seems to be the standard.
Anyone uncomfortable sharing a locker room -- being naked -- with someone else who is potentially attracted to them is labeled "afraid of gay people," insecure or a homophobe. This is what happened to former NBA player Larry Johnson this week when he tweeted:
I don't Jason Collins personally but he seems like a great guy. Me personally gay men in the locked room would make me uncomfortable .
I think we're asking too much. Johnson's discomfort isn't illogical. And I bet he's hardly the only one who feels this way.
Chris Kluwe: I would counter that with this -- there was a time when white men were uncomfortable showering with black men, or having them in the locker room. But as long as someone respects your personal space and doesn't harass you (verbally, physically or sexually), I fail to see what their sexuality, religion, race or personal beliefs have to do with any comfort or discomfort you might feel.
Will: I don't think the black people-white people analogy is a good parallel. That was discomfort driven by racism. This is discomfort driven by potential sexual attraction. The better analogy is gender. Why do we have separate bathrooms for men and women?
Chris: No, this is discomfort driven by sexism. Has there ever been a single reported case of sexual harassment in a professional sports environment by one player toward another? What makes you think that because all of a sudden a player is allowed to openly be himself that he's immediately going to start mounting every guy in sight? Isn't that the very definition of narcissistic tendencies by straight men who think that way? What makes you think you're that player's type, or that he would ever be attracted to you?
One of the reasons we have separate bathrooms for women and men is because men have a long history of violent behavior toward women, particularly when they feel women are vulnerable. And so we have separated the sexes in those situations.
Are you telling me that a professional athlete wouldn't be able to defend himself in the shower if a gay teammate suddenly decided, despite every single social norm we are raised with, that he was going to start humping his teammate's leg in a work environment?
Will: No. I'm not telling you that. I'm not making any of the arguments you just blasted.
You're right, one of the reasons we have separate men and women bathrooms is the potential for violence. But another reason is due to the discomfort of being checked out by someone who could be attracted to you. No honest straight man can say if he was put in a locker room full of naked ladies he wouldn't check out one, a few, or all of the women. It wouldn't be creepy, it wouldn't be deviant -- it would be normal. And no one would suggest in that situation: Get over yourselves ladies, don't be so narcissistic, your discomfort is your problem.
The argument that I'm actually making is that potential sexual attraction creates a new dynamic in the locker room. And while it doesn't make me uncomfortable, I think it's absurd to say someone like Larry Johnson's discomfort is illogical.
In the end, I don't have a solution to this problem. It isn't for players to live a lie and stay in the closet. But the lack of a solution doesn't require us to veer so far into political correctness to pretend there isn't a problem.
Chris: But here's the thing. There have been gay athletes before. We know this because several of them have come out (Jason Collins while active, others after they were done playing). Simple statistics say there have to have been many others that never came out. And yet, somehow, there's never been a single reported incident of one athlete sexually assaulting another athlete, whether it's in the shower or anywhere else in the locker room.
Essentially, what you're arguing is that because something that has never before happened in the entire history of professional sports might possibly maybe potentially happen if someone were to absolutely lose their mind and ignore every standard of decency and common behavior that we learn from a very young age, that we should force people to live a lie.
I find I can live with the discomfort of people who can't wrap their minds around the idea that the world does not revolve around them. They can always shower somewhere else if it bugs them that much. I'll be in there dropping the soap, perfectly secure in the knowledge that I have a wife who loves me, whom I love back, and that there is an HR department in my organization I can turn to if something inappropriate were to occur. In fact, I'd probably be flattered if someone told me I looked good.
I'm comfortable with who I am. Other people deserve the same chance.
Will: No, again, that's not what I'm arguing. I didn't mention sexual harassment. I certainly didn't mention sexual assault. I did specifically mention "living a lie" and said no one should be forced to do that.
I am only recognizing reality and human nature and observing that people will get checked out. Getting checked out would flatter you. It would flatter me. But I'm pretty sure it wouldn't flatter everyone. Take a quick poll of all the ladies you know about how they feel when they're ogled. Would they all feel flattered?
I don't care if gay guys are in the locker room. I care about intellectual consistency. If people like Larry Johnson, who are uncomfortable, get labeled as homophobes ... then any ladies who have a problem with you in the locker room are prudes.
Again, I don't care ... we can all meet up in the showers at the YWCA this afternoon. Or we become more understanding of other's discomfort. You get it one way or the other. Trying to split the difference is just politically correct emotionalism.