Rob Gronkowski and the Social Capital of Tolerance

My colleague Zack Ford flagged an interview with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, in which he says he’d be fine with a gay teammate, and correctly noted that comments like this are critically important in setting a tone and creating an environment in which someday, an active professional athlete will come out. But for me, the most interesting part of the interview was the context reporter Cyd Zeigler Jr. provided for it.

Gronkowski initially refused on comment because “Gronk said he had no problem with me, he was just afraid of saying something wrong. I understood where he was coming from. While he’s been the darling of the media at times since first appearing in the NFL in 2010, he’s also been the target of some nasty attacks by the media and fans. It seems every time he opens his mouth or appears in the media, he gets roasted for it.” But he changed his mind, came back and answered Zeigler’s question about how he’d handle a gay teammate, and did just fine. We’ve reached a tipping point where neutrality on gay rights is becoming a riskier proposition than affirmation, the kind of thing it’s worth composing yourself to comment on even if you’ve got a history of press trouble. It’s important to be on the record on this, and to preserve your position on the right side of history.