July 26th, 2004

Ricky Williams: Gone. Gay? Oh, God.

So Ricky Williams, after five years in the NFL, most of them pretty damned spectacular, decides to call it a career, leaving the Miami Dolphins pretty much totally fucked for at least the 2004 season (and ain’t that an awful shame?) and the big question on everyone’s mind, apparently, is, did he quit because he’s gay?

Well, shit, for whatever the hell my opinion is worth, I sure hope not. Look, if you’d asked me that question a week ago, I’d have said the exact opposite. Or maybe not. In truth I don’t hope anyone’s gay or not gay any more than I hope someone’s Catholic, a Rolling Stones fan or a fisherman. It doesn’t matter. But a week ago, I’d have thought it would be a good thing if Ricky were gay. (Just like I’ve always thought it would be a good thing if some other spectacular pro athletes — no, not women’s tennis stars; men playing “macho” sports — who were rumored to be gay turned out, in fact, to be gay.) Because that’s what pro football needs: some undeniably talented, out-of-the-closet gay players. It would be a big, huge, gigantic step toward undoing some stereotypes and doing cutting down on the stunning, miserable homophobia that plagues the sport.

Now, though, I can only believe — knowing what I know, having witnessed the kind of bigotry I’ve witnessed (read my forthcoming book This Pats Year for details), and heard and read the kind of homophobic comments I’ve heard and read from athletes, coaches, team officials and, of course, fans — that if it turns out that Ricky is gay, what you’ll hear is that this is evidence that a gay man can’t hack it in the NFL. And while some in the media will point out that this is only true because the league, indeed the sport, is hostile to gay men, those who want to believe that gay men aren’t “real men” will never see it any other way. If the ignorant listened to reason … well, they wouldn’t be ignorant, would they?

The fact is, all we really know is that Ricky isn’t your standard-issue football player and that something about that, perhaps, caused him to want to bow of the league right away, despite that he’s still in his prime as a player, could have made a ton more money yet, and very well might have earned a spot in the Hall of Fame. Or maybe it just occurred to the guy that a) he’s got a great big stack of money already, more than he (or anyone) will ever need; b) the Dolphins were gonna continue to overuse him as they did the past two seasons, probably destroying his knees, if not his entire body, within another year or two; and c) there are better destinations in life than Miami, Florida and Canton, Ohio.

I don’t know. I guess if you’re a Fins fan you’ve gotta be pretty angry at the guy. I mean, not only had Miami tied its fortunes to the guy for the next few seasons, but the timing, with the best free agents (and most of the middling ones) already gone and camp about to start, is damned rotten. The Dolphins’ season pretty much ended yesterday. So call Ricky an asshole if you like. I don’t care. I’d probably call him that if he were pulling an eleventh-hour move like this with the Raiders or even the Pats. But unless Ricky was chased out by hostility in the locker room — in which case the blame for this lies with his former teammates, the organization and the league — his sexual orientation is irrelevant and ought not to be the focus of discussion.

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