There are almost 400 coaches on NFL staffs, however, openly homosexual male coaches were non-existent from the active pool until Friday when Jacksonville Jaguars strength and conditioning coach Kevin Maxen came out to Outsports.com.
In an exclusive interview, Maxen explained his struggle to Outsports, “I don’t want to feel like I have to think about it anymore. I don’t want to feel like I have to lie about who I am seeing, or why I am living with someone else.”
The sheer size and scope of NFL rosters make it one of the most accurate representations of American masculinity, for better and for worse. The propensity for its monochromatic delegation of owners to pass over Black coordinators for the 32 head coaching jobs is even more emblematic of society. Try as they might, the old boys club has attempted over the years to make women and minorities invisible. It may be ugly, but it’s honest.
One of the most common refrains with a wink and a nod from fans any time a player comes out publicly is “we don’t care,” or grumbling about them putting their personal lives in a public light. The second most common one is some disparaging complaint about the LGBTQ community or not wanting their children exposed to it. A decade ago, Michael Sam was deemed a distraction. Closeted individuals are often tormented by the blowback it would have on their personal and professional aspirations. The NFL fandom’s unofficial “Keep It To Yourself” response is part of that quiet bigotry.
Advancing in the ultra-masculine football world is still difficult for gay men. The meritocracy we supposedly live in has a habit of weeding out and othering individuals it doesn’t deem acceptable. It’s only been 13 years since President Obama repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which prohibited the discrimination of closeted service members, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals from service.
For 20 years, DADT policies didn’t just keep homosexual service members from discussing their romantic lives, but also forced them to avoid any relationships, going on same-sex dates, or being seen with members of the LGBTQ community. In the last decade, gay marriage passage and a slew of societal advancements have resulted in LGBTQ Americans coming out at twice the rate they did in previous generations. It’s also triggered a growing wave of cultural backlash to the LGBTQ community, anti-semitism, and racial diversity in society that demonizes progress or basic respect as political correctness or woke-ism, if you’re a single-celled organism. Maxen is also a Black Jew, which makes him especially vulnerable.
If you think we’re past that in sports, look no further than the negative reaction to displays of support for Pride Month by NFL social media accounts.
Football celebrity cultures put the personal lives of athletes under the spotlight.
The Venn diagram of people who passionately don’t want gay athletes “flaunting their personal lives,” who mock an athlete who is suspected of being closeted and cry foul when an athlete who’s been pressured to live a certain way reveals his truth to the world is a single circle. Nothing drives engagement on Twitter like another comment about Dwight Howard. Intolerant athletes in other major professional sports either don’t understand the damage they’re doing when they refuse to acknowledge Pride Nights due to their personal beliefs or don’t care.
Maxen even alluded to this sentiment, telling Outsports, “I don’t want to feel like I have to think about it anymore. I don’t want to feel like I have to lie about who I am seeing, or why I am living with someone else. I want to be vocal in support of people living how they want to live, but I also want to just live and not feel fear about how people will react.”
The odds are that there are more closeted high-profile figures in the NFL hierarchy, but climbing the ranks becomes more difficult while simultaneously leading a double life. It’s much simpler for a lowly assistant to live a covert existence than a high-profile head coach. Now that he’s established as a coach with the Jags, Maxen is afforded some level of comfort, but that level of protection likely wouldn’t be there if this was the beginning of his career. Ultimately, closeted individuals higher and higher up the ladder are beginning to feel more at ease with coming out.
It’s about them — not you.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex