We often hear the refrain “one in four, maybe more” at Yale. Though obviously trite, it speaks to a large LGBTQ presence on campus, one that is mostly welcomed and accepted.
Indeed, following the Supreme Court’s decision this past summer to legalize gay marriage nationwide, and after decades of activism to reduce and eliminate discrimination, support for gay rights is at an all-time high. Marriage, of course, is just one small part of a much larger debate, but it should be noted that a CNN poll released in February showed that 63 percent of Americans believe that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.
Despite this upswing in support, however, one notable area remains woefully behind the times: collegiate athletics.
There are 253 Division I football teams in the nation. But when Princeton offensive lineman Mason Darrow came out publicly last month, he was believed to be the only D-I player in the country to be openly gay. Given that Football Bowl Subdivision teams are allowed up to 85 players on scholarship and Football Championship Subdivision teams are allowed 63 scholarships, and given that many players do not receive athletic aid, that comes out to a conservative estimate of at least 20,000 student-athletes on D-I football squads.
And only one of them is publicly gay.
Now, Darrow is not the first openly gay player in football history. Arizona State’s Chip Sarafin came out as gay in August 2014, though the scout team offensive lineman never appeared in an official collegiate game. Middle Tennessee State kicker Alan Gendreau was out to his teammates during his career from 2008 through 2011, though it was not until after his playing days were done that he came out publicly.
Most notably, the St. Louis Rams selected Missouri defensive end Michael Sam in the 7th round of the 2014 NFL draft three months after Sam announced he was gay. But Sam, the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, was released by the Rams before appearing in a single regular season game.
I am not accusing any specific team of homophobia — countless collegiate stars have failed to make the jump to the NFL. However, it is clear that the football world, both collegiate and professional, is not an accepting one for LGBTQ athletes, and something must be done.
Here at Yale, as recently as four years ago, a panel was held to discuss the difficulties of gay students on athletic teams and in Greek organizations. Reinstituting such a panel would be a welcome step.
In the Outsports.com article in which Darrow came out, Princeton head coach Bob Surace said, “Here at Princeton, if we can’t handle this and say, ‘we’re supportive of everybody no matter what their background, religion, race or sexual orientation,’ then we don’t have the right guys in the locker room.”
I hope the Yale football team, and all Yale teams, have that attitude. From my time covering Yale football in 2013, I believe Tony Reno’s squad does. The football players that I know personally are stand-up, high-character guys, and I would expect them to act with class under any circumstances. But that doesn’t mean Yale athletics can’t do more to create a welcoming space for all competitors — perhaps there could be a specific sensitivity and sexual orientation workshop for incoming student-athletes during their first team meetings.
On a national scale, however, change is much harder to come by. Only two-and-a-half years ago, in the buildup to Super Bowl XLVII, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver said that he would not tolerate a gay teammate in the locker room. His remarks were swiftly condemned, and that summer, the annual NFL Rookie Symposium included a talk about sexual orientation for the first time. But given what some perceived to be homophobic treatment of Sam during his brief stint in the NFL, and given the lack of publicly gay players currently in the league, the NFL has an obligation to improve its climate toward homosexuality. The NFL dominates the American sports landscape and taking such steps would spark progress across all sports and levels.
Twenty-five years ago, according to Outsports.com, during the Yale-Princeton football game, Tigers fans chanted “That’s all right, that’s okay, one in four of you are gay.” And twenty-nine days ago, Mason Darrow said coming out to his teammates “was the best decision [he had] ever made.”
Let’s make sure other players feel comfortable enough to make that same decision.