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Will Openly Gay Athlete Have His Chance With the NFL?

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Apr 25, 2013
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Alan Gendreau has the potential to make history.

The openly gay, former college football player wants a shot to get on a National Football League roster. If things go his way, Gendreau would be the first openly gay professional male athlete on a team sport.

In an in-depth interview with OutSports, the 23-year-old devout Christian, who is a Florida native but was a stellar kicker for the Middle Tennessee State’s Blue Raiders, explains that he has his sights on the NFL.

"Right now, looking back when I’m 40, I can’t say I gave it my best shot," Gendreau told Outsports.com. "I can’t say I really tried to make it into the NFL. Last year I did it half-assed. If I don’t give it everything I have now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life."

Though only the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers are likely to draft a kicker this year, it’s still possible, according to Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who has been an outstanding ally for LGBT rights.

"It’s totally legit that he can get into the league," Kluwe said. "Place-kicking is all about doing this one specific skill set. And if you can do that, you can make it whether you’ve been out of football for one year or 10 years."

Gendreau, who is 5-foot, 10-inches tall, has been out since he was 15 years old and graduated Middle Tennessee State last year. He told OutsSports that he told his teammates that he was gay during his freshman year. They all responded positively.

"Everyone just saw him as a football player," Middle Tennessee State holder and team punter Josh Davis said. "He was just one of the guys. The fact that he proved himself on the field, there was a respect for him."

Cyd Zeigler, a co-founder of OutSports who wrote the story, told the New York Times that Gendreau’s "goal is not to be first" but rather, "to be who he is."

"NFL teams will do whatever will win games," Zeigler said. "I don’t think being openly gay hurts or helps him. It might hurt him with one N.F.L. executive, or help him with another. But it won’t determine whether he gets a job."

If the athlete does make it into the NFL, he would be the first openly professionally football player as well as the first professional player to enter the league openly gay.

"I’m not in the N.F.L.," Gendreau told the Times. "If that were to happen, I’d love to be that role model to anybody struggling. I know that’s a lot of pressure, but that’s the life of a kicker."

Over the last month, rumors have circulated around the Internet that a current NFL player was debating coming out sometime during the 2013 season after CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman published a report. Freeman writes current and former players told him that the athlete in question is not worried about reaction from teammates, but is concerned about his fans.

"I honestly think the players of the NFL have been ready for an openly gay player for quite some time now," Scott Fujita, a free-agent linebacker told Freeman. "Trust me, the coming out of a player would create much bigger waves outside the locker room than inside. "The way I’ve seen the conversation around LGBT issues evolve, especially in the past few years, has been encouraging."

LGBT rights supporters in the sports world have taken precaution, however, and have been working to create a support system if the athlete does choose to come out.

"We want to let this NFL player -- or any closeted gay player -- know that you have backup. Your community, whether it is your teammates or your fan base is here to support you," Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, a group working to end homophobia in sports, said in a statement.

Officials from the National Hockey Leagued have also taken steps to create a more inclusive environment for gay players. Last week, the NHL announced a partnership with the You Can Play Project, an organization that promotes equality in sports.

"Our motto is Hockey Is for Everyone, and our partnership with You Can Play certifies that position in a clear and unequivocal way," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said a statement. "We are delighted to reaffirm through this joint venture with the NHL Players’ Association that the official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands."

Though some may seem coming out as a negative, the move could prove to be lucrative for the first openly gay pro athlete. it was reported last week that Nike officials asked Rick Welts, the former Phoenix Suns executive who came out in 2011, to tell any professional athlete in a major U.S. sports team who was considering coming out, that the world’s largest sporting-goods company would like to endorse them.

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