I’ve caught up on so much reading in the past two weeks, the first of which was self-isolation and the second being the enforced national ‘stay home’ lockdown. I’ve also managed to get through some very cool, inspiring and thought-provoking documentaries, the last of which was Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.
The documentary deals with Hernandez’s early fame for the New England Patriots, a 40-million dollar contract as a 23 year-old, his arrest and conviction for murder as a 23 year-old, his life sentencing without parole and his suicide as a 27 year-old.
It also talks about him being gay or bisexual, even if he never publicly acknowledged his sexuality.
When reading up on Hernandez, I found it disturbing how much the media focused on his sexual orientation, when the story should have been the murder conviction and a second charge of double murder, to which there was an acquittal. The obsession, within the media, was more about the possibility of Hernandez being gay than it was on him being a killer.
We supposedly live in the most tolerant times in history when it comes to acceptance of gender and sexual orientation, but the statistics don’t speak to this apparent lack of prejudice, particularly when it comes to gay professional sportsmen.
The National Hockey League (NHL) has never had an openly gay player. At the 2016 Rio Olympics there were only 10 openly gay male athletes from the many thousand competing, which was 10 more than competed at FIFA’s 2018 Men’s Soccer World Cup.
If you research the subject on Google, for example, the options of gay male professional sportsmen are limited to a page.
There isn’t a professional gay rugby union player currently in the world, according to statistics, and rugby league is limited to Super League’s Keegan Hirst, whose physical presence of 122 kilograms and 1.96 metres crushes ignorant and ill-informed gay feminine stereotyping.
Former Welsh rugby union captain Gareth Thomas is gay, but he played his entire career in the belief that coming out would end his career and alienate him from supporters and sponsors. Thomas contemplated suicide and lived with a misguided sense of shame. He has admitted that coming out freed him as a person and that his life has never been more content. Supporters, teammates, the public and the opposition were unanimous in applauding Thomas.
But, and here is the big but, Thomas’s storytelling may have inspired sportsmen to support the Rainbow Shoelaces campaigns but it hasn’t inspired more players to follow their hearts and live the lives that gives them the most comfort.
Equally, the story of the world’s best rugby referee Nigel Owens, who at one stage also wanted to take his own life.
Men’s professional soccer has followed a similar graph. In 2013 Robbie Rogers confirmed he was gay and immediately left England’s Premier League to move to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Rogers said that he wanted to escape the media scrutiny and the invasiveness.
The storied torture and self-loathing of those players who chose to live and not die during their professional careers is gut-wrenching and I felt ill reading their painful accounts of living in a world where they believed it was impossible to be true to who they were.
Ryan O’Callaghan, who played six seasons in the NFL for the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, said his life play was to play professional football and then kill himself on retirement.
He was convinced his family would never love him ‘if they knew who I really was’; equally Patriots and Chiefs supporters.
‘I’d just want to be a footballer,’ said Rogers. ‘I wouldn’t want to deal with the circus. Would I want to do interviews every day, where people are asking: So, you’re taking showers with guys – how’s that?’
Payal Dhar, writing for the Nation, described men’s sports AS being trapped in a culture of repression.
Puerto Rico boxer Orlando Cruz in 2012 said he didn’t want to hide any of his identities and he wanted to show kids that ‘who you are or whom you love should not be AN impediment to achieving anything in life’.
Earlier this year Curdin Orlik, a swing wresting champion, became Switzerland’s first openly gay active male pro athlete.
‘I can’t help it. That is how I was born,’ said Orlik: ‘I’d rather be free than fearful.’
Canadian Markus Thormeyer, in 2016, told his Olympic teammates he was gay. He said he couldn’t live with every day feeling like a threat, when it should have represented an opportunity.
It was said of the 1980s that homophobia was accepted and homosexuality was stigmatized.
When I read the countless stories on Aaron Hernandez, I thought I was back in the 1980s and not in 2020.