When punter Chris Kluwe was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last week, many in the LGBT community and the mainstream media cried foul. It was assumed that Kluwe's advocacy for our equality was the real reason behind his release. "NFL hates gay people" was the tenor of many headlines.
Yet today, Kluwe announced he has signed with the Oakland Raiders. He was a free agent for less than two weeks. He has the opportunity to replace Shane Lechler, a longtime fixture -- and one history's great punters -- with the silver and black.
There's a lesson here the LGBT community has got to learn. If we're to truly gain equality and understanding in sports, it's time to accept a new reality in sports:
The NFL doesn't care if an athlete is gay. The teams don't care if you're an LGBT advocate, has lesbian moms, live in West Hollywood or any other way to slice and dice their acceptance of who we are as individuals and as a community. If we can contribute to a team, they want us and our friends to play with them.
How many times do members of the League, and the NFL itself, have to say this before we realize they mean it? There are enough active NFL players to nearly fill the rosters of an entire division with men who have said they would welcome a gay teammate. The League and the NFLPA have instituted non-discrimination policies, and the heads of those organizations have made it clear they will not tolerate homophobia. While he's not gay, one of the most-revered teams in League history has now signed one of the nation's most vocal LGBT advocates.
Look at it this way: LGBT advocate Chris Kluwe got a gig within two weeks; Probable Hall of Famers Dwight Freeney and Charles Woodson have been jobless for months. Why? Because Kluwe simply found a place where he can contribute to a team at a salary that makes sense for both sides. The Vikings couldn't make it work. The Raiders could. That's all it's about for the NFL and every other pro sports league.
This certainly doesn't mean the work is done. An active NFL player has not felt comfortable enough to come out. But frankly, with every advancement in sports, that increasingly on our shoulders.
When we scream "the NFL hates gay people" every time something happens that we don't like, those closeted athletes hear very clearly, "The NFL hates YOU!" That doesn't help anybody. There was a time when it was true. The NFL had to clear the path for gay players to feel welcome. Like I said, the work isn't done. But more of that work now includes our community telling the story of an inclusive -- not exclusive -- NFL.
The League is moving quickly past this issue. In the coming weeks and months, they will do more. They will address their rookies in a meaningful way. They will continue to create guidelines for handling homophobia and gay athletes. More and more athletes will publicly welcome gay teammates.
The question now is, are we ready to move on? Is the LGBT community willing to open its collective eyes and see the writing on the wall: The NFL does not hate us, and they are working hard to make sure every opportunity is afforded us to play.