OK, there isn’t much of one. Rhodes is a veteran defensive back who, despite having played very well last year, has not been signed by an NFL team this year (he worked out for the Giants and a few other teams earlier this fall). In September, Deadspin’s Drew Magary wondered whether Rhodes had become radioactive because he was rumored to be gay (Rhodes has denied this).
A couple of weeks ago, Matt Rudnitsky of Sports Grid wondered whether Rhodes was the player Mike Freeman was referring to when Freeman wrote about why the expected emergence of an openly gay player on an NFL team this year never materialized. In the spring, Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Ravens linebacker and outspoken advocate for same sex marriage said that one or more players would be coming out soon. Dave Zirin had written several times that this breakthrough moment was likely in the offing. But according to Freeman’s account, based on interviews with players and other league sources, while there is considerable openness by many players, several franchises and people within the league office to an openly gay player, there remains considerable reticence, fear and resistance.
According to Freeman:
Some stories out of the last NFL combine indicated teams are worried. Nick Kasa, a prospective pro out of the University of Colorado, told ESPN Radio in Denver earlier this year that during interviews with team officials at the combine in Indianapolis: “(Teams) ask you, like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ ‘Are you married?’ ‘Do you like girls?'” Big-name players like Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell indicated in radio interviews that they were asked similar questions. The assumption was that the questions were some form of standard operating procedure not tied to the particular interviewees.
When the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito story first broke, Joe Ovious, a local sports radio personality in the Research Triangle, said that the kind of hazing Martin had apparently been through illustrated well why we’re still waiting for the first openly NFL player. Martin was apparently hounded for being too “soft” and cerebral and for failing, it seems, to exhibit the appropriate levels of testosterone (or whatever overt manifestations of that are associated with being a “man’s man” in a locker room). Imagine if Martin were thought to be gay in what already sounds like a toxic environment? If teams were reticent before the Martin/Incognito story emerged, how much more hesitant would they be now?
Perhaps more than any other realm of American society, elite level athletics is a meritocracy – the most talented really do rise to the top far more reliably than in other professional endeavors.
So it remains especially noteworthy when a healthy 31-year old player, who’s considered a quality starter by almost any measure, cannot even find his way onto an NFL roster.
(On a related note, Zirin has a column today naming Robbie Rogers his sportsman of the year. Rogers, who now plays for the LA Galaxy, had originally announced his retirement from soccer at the age of 25 earlier this year, after he came out of the closet. But he reversed himself, in part because of Jason Collins’ decision to publicly acknowledge his sexuality. In May, Rogers became the first openly gay athlete to take the field in a North American professional sports league).