On May 23, The Huffington Post published a very short article that listed the 10 current and former NFL players who have declared they would support a gay teammate. Although the article was just 25 words and had clearly received little online interest, it was strangely relevant to Vice President Biden's comment on Meet The Press. Most people will remember that he declared his support for gay marriage that day, but some people might forget that he also expressed his belief that the TV show "Will & Grace" had a crucial impact on American's attitude towards gay issues. Some people, including liberal satirist Jon Stewart, laughed at the ironic notion that a straight man pretending to be gay on television was more noteworthy than all the work done by gay rights groups to fight their discrimination from mainstream American life.
The Vice President's remarks seem silly when all the painful legislative battles for gay rights are considered. TV shows are entertainment, and historians will not be focused on entertainment when they mark the true turning points for complete gay integration in America. Historians will likely focus on the states rights vs. federal powers and how they affected the speed of gay rights legislation.
Legislative battles are difficult, and obviously vital, but if the average American voter is not completely comfortable with the concept of gay people being integrated, legislative efforts will fail. Politicians can often be untrustworthy and mildly deceitful, but if enough people support any one position, politicians will either adapt their views or be voted outÂ—just like what the tea party enthusiasm has done to remove a handful of established GOP lawmakers.
The fact that opponents of gay rights have characterized government attempts to grant and protect such rights as a violation of individual, state, and religious freedom is unfair. Unfair as it may be, it is the case, and any sweeping federal action would likely do more damage to gay causes in the short-term. This means that before sweeping legislative reform to be possible, there needs to be more effort to increase public awareness of the difficulties of growing up gay in a straight society and of the prejudice that still exists in many areas of the country. If the 10 NFL players who have stated they would support a gay teammate can influence others to do the same, it would bring a new dimension to the appeal for gay rights to people who may have otherwise decided to ignore the issue. As well as improving the American attitude toward gay integration in all areas of society, my suspicion is that many former athletes will admit that they realized they were gay during their careers, but chose to hide it for fear of being treated differently.