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NFL, We Are Watching

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The recent "scandal" concerning NFL free agent Kerry Rhodes has many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community on high alert. Rhodes has been "outed" by a reputed lover, Russell "Hollywood" Simpson, who was motivated by Rhodes' denial that he is gay in an interview. Simpson provided photographs of the two them that allegedly reveal intimate moments together. One photo allegedly shows Rhodes kissing Simpson on the side of his head. Simpson also shared intimate text messages.

This is only considered a "scandal" because the object of Rhodes' affection is a man. We don't know whether Rhodes is straight, bisexual, gay or simply a young man experimenting, but does it matter? It should not. Rhodes is an excellent football player who was predicted to be picked up by an NFL team by next month.

Some are speculating that this will hurt Rhodes' chances of getting a new NFL home. Really? The NFL has harbored wife beaters, drug addicts, alcoholics and even those accused of murder. Why would Rhodes' possible homosexuality be considered a negative thing when these other issues are readily ignored or defended? Because of rampant homophobia.

As this story takes hold, I am sure that we will hear players or owners talking about locker rooms and the close quarters that players share. But guess what? Kerry Rhodes has been in those environments since 2005, and nothing has happened. The only difference is that Rhodes would now be open about his sexuality, whatever that may be.

This is the perfect opportunity for the NFL to illustrate that it has moved beyond its traditionally homophobic culture. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo recently said that four current NFL players might be planning to "come out" together. If that's true, then how the NFL treats the Rhodes situation could determine their decision.

No one wants to lose his or her economic livelihood. If an alleged gay relationship ends Rhodes' career, then we can expect few players, if any, to come out. The question is simply, "Am I willing to give up millions of dollars a year to be able to be true to myself at work?" Unfortunately, many LGBT people answer a similar question, to a certain extent, every day. Their answer is often, "No, I am not willing to risk my economic security to be openly LGBT." This is why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is so important. It will prevent employers from firing employees because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. Coupled with sexual harassment laws, it will ensure that LGBT people are protected in the workplace.

I hope that the NFL knows that the LGBT community and its allies are watching closely how it handles the Kerry Rhodes "scandal." Will Rhodes continue to be courted by teams? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the world will be watching.