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Homophobic Tweets & Gay Teammates

Brandon Spikes vs. Rob Gronkowski

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes whipped up controversy with his Twitter account recently, tweeting, “I’m homophobic just like I’m arachnophobic. I have nothing against homosexuals or spiders, but I’d still scream if I found one in my bathtub!”

Not the best way to ring in National Coming Out Day, to say the least.

Spikes, a young, promising player who was drafted by the Patriots in 2010, has quickly earned a reputation as one of the league’s top run stoppers. He’s also earned a reputation as a controversial figure off the field. A couple of years ago, an adult video that allegedly featured Spikes with a Kim Kardashian lookalike appeared online, prompting Spikes’ agent to try to explain why the video was made.

Rob Gronkowski, the equally promising (on the field, at least) tight end who was also drafted by the Patriots in 2010, has, like Spikes, also quickly earned a reputation as a controversial figure off the field. A couple of years ago, photos of a topless Gronkowski with porn star Bibi Jones, who was wearing Gronk’s #87 Patriots jersey, likewise appeared online after they were posted by Jones to her Twitter account (which at the time enjoyed upwards of 100,000 followers).

Then last spring, photos surfaced of Gronkowski attending a Playboy golf party, along with several Playboy playmates, of course.

Ah, the life of the professional athlete. Boys and their star-studded football careers. Right?

Maybe.

But none of this (other than, perhaps, a completely unchecked obsession with finding a term to couple with “arachnophobia”) explains why Spikes would choose to compare gay people to spiders, or, at best, his fear of gay people to his fear of spiders, in a tweet. He later relented, again, tweeting, “PEOPLE [caps his] !!!! It’s a joke ... seriously a JOKE !!! Chill out.”

*

Spikes’ tweet doesn’t strike me (as an admittedly estranged observer, but an observer nonetheless) as one that is intentionally anti-gay, in the manner of, say, the Westboro Baptist Church. Yet it certainly was not the comment of a person sensitive enough to be aware of its destructiveness. You might call it drive-by homophobia.

Perhaps Spikes’ tweet speaks less to his feelings for or against gay rights and more to the growth of gay rights in sports culture. In the past few years, more and more athletes have publicly voiced their support for marriage equality and other gains for gays. In fact, to find an example of such an athlete, one needs only to look across the Patriots’ locker room to Rob Gronkowski, who voiced his support only a few months ago.

In a brief interview at this past summer’s ESPY Awards with Outsports.com founder and columnist (and Patriots fan) Cyd Ziegler, Gronkowski said he would be “cool” with a gay teammate—though, as Ziegler notes, the interview almost didn’t happen. “Gronk said he had no problem with me, he was just afraid of saying something wrong,” Ziegler writes.

As a member of the press corps attending the ESPYs, Ziegler had been talking with several athletes about their thoughts on having a gay teammate. “So I was taken aback a bit,” he continues, “when Gronkowski stepped away from me upon hearing I was ‘with Outsports; we call it ESPN for homos.’ The man who had quickly become one of my favorite athletes on my favorite team was about to be the first pro athlete to refuse an interview with me about gay issues in the NFL.”

But sometimes, thankfully, immediate reflex reactions are just that: immediate reflex reactions.

“It was only a few seconds before Gronkowski turned and walked back to me,” Ziegler relates. “He didn’t have to. San Diego Charger [and Brandon Spikes’ cousin] Takeo Spikes and the folks at Young Hollywood were right next to me, wrangling him for an interview as well (as was pretty much everyone on the red carpet that day).”

Gronk went back, briefly talked with Ziegler and added his name to the list of athletes who would feel all right with having a gay teammate. “If that’s how they are, that’s how they are,” Gronkowski told Ziegler. “I mean, we’re teammates, so as long as he’s being a good teammate and being respectful and everything, that’s cool.”

Twitter, for better or worse, is a medium of communication that promotes immediacy, immortalizing reflex reactions in the great wasteland of the Internet. Who knows what Gronkowski might have tweeted in that moment before he reconsidered and went back for his brief interview with Outsports?.

Similarly, who knows why Spikes elected to share that particular homophobic thought on Twitter at that particular moment?

But regardless of his reasons or lack thereof, let’s hope it will soon be followed by a moment’s pause in which he reconsiders his statement, reflects honestly on his identity as an athlete and the identities of those that make up the diverse world of sports, athletes and fans included, so that he articulates his thoughts in a more thoughtful manner in the future—or chooses not to share a half-formed, half-felt opinion.

If Spikes’ tweet is part of the larger process of his adjustment to a sports culture where gay acceptance is becoming less a taboo and more a norm, then admitting that he is a homophobe seems as good a way as any for him to begin that personal transformation.•

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