Rodgers’ ‘outing’ spotlights cultural challenges

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Unfortunately, a number of professional athletes have made insulting remarks about gay people. Their hateful statements, uttered by high-profile, macho role models and amplified by the media, have reinforced negative perceptions and hostility toward gays. They’ve also made it more difficult for young people who are questioning their sexual orientation to talk about and process their feelings.

But Aaron Rodgers is not one of those athletes. To our knowledge, he’s never said anything publicly about LGBT civil rights, marriage equality or anything else related to sexual orientation. 

We support the outing of gay and lesbian hypocrites who act out their self-loathing in the public sphere by actively demeaning others like them or campaigning against their rights. But Rodgers does not fall into that category.

So it was regrettable when rumors that Rodgers is gay recently crashed The Fame Driven, a hitherto unknown website that couldn’t handle all the traffic drawn by its story claiming to “out” the Packers’ star quarterback. The evidence — tweets from Rodgers’ former roommate and personal assistant Kevin Lanflisi — was compelling but inconclusive. The motivation was clearly salacious.

Moreover, broadcasting Lanflisi’s sad, personal tweets about an ended relationship to a mass audience without his permission and without context was creepily voyeuristic — one of those occurrences that leave us longing for the pre-Internet era.

Sexual orientation is natural and morally neutral. The carnival-like atmosphere that surrounded the Internet speculation about Rodgers suggested otherwise. It reduced gay people to something like exotic animals in a circus sideshow. 

Perhaps Rodgers worsened the situation when he turned the story into fair game for the legitimate press by denying it on his Milwaukee radio broadcast. He insisted that he “really, really likes women.” Too bad that Rodgers didn’t take a clue from the playbook of celebrities such as Oprah, George Clooney and James Franco, who’ve been rumored to be gay. They’ve said that if they were gay they would not deny it, because it’s not something to be ashamed of. 

At least Rodgers didn’t make as big a fuss as former Mets catcher Mike Piazza famously did in 2002 after being “outed.” Piazza called a news conference to proclaim his heterosexuality.

But the professional sports arena has not changed as much as the rest of world in the ensuing decade. Not a single Major League Baseball or NFL player has come out during his professional career, despite the demographic odds that some gay players must exist. The lack of gay visibility in major league sports contributes to the homophobic vibe of the locker room.

If an athlete of Rodgers’ stature came out of the closet, it would help to change perceptions about LGBT people — and gay men in particular. It would advance the ball.

But only if he proudly owned it.