Lost in yesterday's important news was this "SUPER WORLD EXCLUSIVE" from MediaTakeOut: Kerry Rhodes kissed a dude on the head. And not just any dude, but a dude who is said to be Rhodes's assistant, and gay. [Update: We've taken down MTO's photos. See note at the bottom.]
MTO ran photos of the two last week—sans kisses—which prompted Rhodes to tell TMZ:
"Photos have been circulating of my former assistant and I that have caused some rumors regarding my sexuality, and I wanted to address the situation."
Rhodes then says flatly, "I am not gay."
Rhodes explains: "The shots were taken during a past vacation in a casual environment with my entire business team."
Rhodes says when it comes to being supportive of gay professional athletes coming out, he's on Magic Johnson's team: "I know a lot of people are recently talking about athletes struggling to come out to their fans right now, and I support them, as well as wish those individuals comfort."
(We pause here to call into question the credibility of both outlets, not because of their gossipy approaches, which we laud, but because TMZ called Rhodes an "NFL STAR" and MTO called him a "Top NFL Superstar." He was cut by the Cardinals a month ago and has not caught on elsewhere.)
The NFL media have spent the past few months wondering whether the league is ready for a gay player—Mike Freeman reported that one might be coming out soon, and Brendon Ayanbadejo said four gay players might come out soon, although he later walked that back.
What does this Rhodes thing mean in that context? First: Regardless of what's in those photos, Kerry Rhodes is not going to be one of the gay players coming out anytime soon. That's simple enough. And the NFL still hasn't yet reached a point where its players could see reports about their sexuality and not sprint to TMZ to correct the record. Nor have the media universally agreed to support a possibly gay player. In its post last night, MTO stumbled all over itself to defend Rhodes's potential homosexuality—"There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SHAMEFUL about being LGBT," MTO wrote—but the site's first Rhodes post, last week, had "This Ish Here Is Looking SUSPECT" in its headline.
But there is a little sliver of hope. Look at the last bit TMZ quoted: "I know a lot of people are recently talking about athletes struggling to come out to their fans right now, and I support them, as well as wish those individuals comfort." Compare this to the usual bit of mandated outreach that accompanies a public denial like Rhodes's—I'm thinking of Mike Piazza's impromptu "I'm not gay" news conference in May 2002. Piazza said then, "If the guy is doing his job on the field . . . I don't think there would be any problem at all." His teammates and general manager said essentially the same thing. It was the pro-sports equivalent of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, repeated by most every athlete in most every sport, whenever the question came up.
Rhodes, though, didn't say that—he offered support and best wishes. It's not much, but it's progress.
Update, Oct. 31: We've pulled the MTO photos after receiving the following letter from a woman who apparently works in PR and crisis management:
Re: Notice of Copyright Infringement and Cease and Desist Notice
To whom it may concern,
I am writing to you to on behalf of Kerry Rhodes. It has come to our attention that you have been displaying one or more photos that are or are derived from images (the “Infringing Materials”), the copyright of which belongs to Kerry Rhodes. This notice is to notify you of your unlawful usage of image(s) that are owned by him and displaying on your blog (or website):
We have copies/screenshots of your page and as such have proof of the unlawful distribution of his intellectual property.
You are hereby directed to remove the Infringing Materials from your site/blog, discontinue all use of such, and cease and desist in any and all copyright infringement related to Kerry Rhodes.
Under 17 U.S.C. 504, the consequences of copyright infringement includes statutory damages up to $150,000 per image. If you continue to engage in copyright infringement after receiving this letter, your actions will be evidence of “willful infringement”.
Indicate in writing to us within 5 business days what actions you will be taking and in what time frame, or we will be entitled to assume that you have willingly decided to actively continue your infringing activities.
You should also be aware that your actions may constitute criminal copyright infringement as defined under 17 U.S.C. 506.
If you or your attorneys have any questions, please contact me directly at [email redacted].