'Imagine If He Looks at Me': Are NFL Star's Anti-Gay Comments Keeping Players in the Closet

By Chris Hoenig

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is afraid that a gay teammate would look at him in the shower.

Vilma made the homophobic comment in an interview for a special report by NFL Network Chief Correspondent for Player Health and Safety Andrea Kremer that focused on the culture within NFL locker rooms. Kremer discussed bullying and language with several players, then asked about the likelihood of having closeted teammates and why no NFL players have publicly come out. That possibility, according to Kremer, would “test the limits of tolerance.”

“I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” Vilma said. “I don’t want people to just naturally assume, like, ‘Oh, we’re all homophobic.’ That’s really not the case. Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond”

“There’s such a stigma with gay and homosexuals within male sports,” Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher added during his session with Kremer. “It would be very difficult for that first person to come out.”

Players also admitted to a no-holds-barred atmosphere, where hazing is common and the N-word is thrown around at will. You can see her full report here.

Vilma—a three-time Pro Bowler, perhaps as well known for having his full-season suspension overturned during the Saints’ “Bountygate” scandal as his play on the field—is no stranger to homophobic comments. In 2011, Vilma tweeted “Grown men should NOT hav female tendencies. Period.”

Response was swift, and Vilma’s defense only furthered his insensitive image. First, Twitter user @zumbawithkris attempted to get Vilma to open his mind. “Just read what you said, and then consider how a gay man might feel. Consider how women might feel,” the user wrote. Vilma’s immediate response:

Vilma then publicly responded to the backlash on his Twitter account, writing, “So of course the homosexual men get sensitive to my tweet and respond all ticked off. RELAX I was not referring to u guys.”

The social-media response to his latest comments is much the same as last time.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo said last year that as many as four closeted, active players could come out publicly. So far, none have, and Ayanbadejo and former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe—the NFL’s two most public supporters of the LGBT community—were cut from their teams and have gone unsigned.

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