Atlanta Falcons Cornerback Asante Samuel asked a classic question in response to the coming out of NBA player Jason Collins: Why do people gay people flaunt their sexuality. Speaking with Fox Sports Radio this week, Samuel expressed concern about kids being exposed to homosexuality:
SAMUEL: Straight people are not announcing they’re straight, so why does everybody have to announce their sexuality or whatever? You know, what they prefer, so that’s just how I see it. That’s my opinion on things. All respect you know, I have nothing but respect for the people whoever decisions they make and whatever, but you know, you don’t have to show it and flaunt it like that. You know what I’m saying, we have kids out here too.
In a follow-up conversation on ESPN’s Sports Center, Samuel explained that “sports and sexuality is not a combination — the world is making it a combination,” and that he teaches his kids “God.”
Samuel’s concern is an important reminder about one of the fundamental challenges of the gay rights movement: that sexual orientation is an invisible identity. He is unaware of the privilege he has to be heterosexual in a society that assumes heterosexuality. When straight people talk about their sexuality, it’s not considered flaunting, because they’re not challenging any stigma against their identities.
Consider that in the culture of the NFL actually has an entire organization for players’ wives. Though Samuel does make a point to keep his personal life personal, he did marry a woman, Jeniva Barrett, who he has inevitably been photographed with. At no point did he ever have to announce that he was straight, nor did he ever have to worry about the impact his sexuality would have on his career.
Jason Collins, in contrast, spent many years hiding who he was, even from himself. He should be just as entitled to date and start a family like Samuel has done. It’s only because of the anti-gay stigma and gender norms that permeate professional sports that Collins had to make an announcement at all — and it was historic for those same reasons. Samuel’s defensive reaction simply reflects the novelty of there being a gay player in a major sport. Once Collins is no longer unique and openly gay players become a norm, it’ll no longer seem like “flaunting” when players come out. Unfortunately, stigmatizing attitudes like Samuel’s may delay the arrival of that stigma-free day.