While the topic of gay players on NFL rosters has garnered a great deal of attention over the past few years, it is hardly a new issue. There are likely gay men playing professional football today just as there were gay men playing professional football 20 years ago. According to a few former players, the 1993 Houston Oilers had two gay players on their roster and they were not ostracized in any way.
Lamar Lathon, a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played for the Oilers from 1990-1994, told the Houston Chronicle this week that the two players he was asked about are some of the toughest teammates he has ever played alongside.
“Listen, those guys that we’re talking about were unbelievable teammates,” Lathon said. “And if you wanted to go to war with someone, you would get those guys first. Because I have never seen tougher guys than those guys. And everybody in the locker room, the consensus knew or had an idea that things were not exactly right. But guess what? When they strapped the pads on and got on the field, man, we were going to war with these guys because they were unbelievable.”
I’m sure there will be people who take offense to Lathon describing the situation as “not exactly right,” but he was clearly defending his former teammates. Bubba McDowell, a former Oilers safety, echoed Lathon’s comments.
“Everybody knew certain guys (were gay),” he said. “Everybody speculated and people used to see these two guys come in by themselves. They’d leave at lunchtime and then come back.”
Both McDowell and Lathon said that showering and being in the locker room with their gay teammates was “no big deal.” An NFL documentary that aired recently painted a picture of the ’93 Oilers — who started the year 1-4 before winning 11 straight and being bounced in the playoffs — as one of the most dysfunctional teams in NFL history.
Earlier this year, Vince Lombardi’s daughter claimed that her father worked with at least five gay men on his 1969 Washington Redskins team and protected any players or co-workers that were discriminated against. If players and coaches were aware that there were gay players in locker rooms almost 50 years ago, I’m sure the same is true now. Hopefully more of those players receive support as time passes.