New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes caused more controversy with his Twitter account yesterday, 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 (on the field, at least) player who was drafted by the Patriots in 2010, has quickly earned the reputation as one of the league’s top run stoppers. He’s also earned the reputation of a controversial figure off the field. A couple of years ago, an adult video, which allegedly features Spikes with a Kim Kardashian look alike, appeared online, prompting Spikes’ agent to (try to) explain why the video was made.
Rob Gronkowski, the equally as promising (on the field, at least) tight end who was also drafted by the Patriots in 2010, has, like Spikes, also quickly earned the reputation of 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?
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 [capitalizations 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 isn’t one that is necessarily sensitive, or aware enough of its implicit destruction, in a drive-by homophobia sort of way, to not be anti-gay.
So, perhaps Spikes’ tweet speaks less to his feelings for, or against gay rights, and more to the growing presence of gay rights in sports culture. For in the past few years, more and more athletes have publicly voiced their support for marriage equality and other pro-gay issues. In fact, to find an example of such an athlete, one needs only to look across the Patriots locker room, to none other than Rob Gronkowski, who voiced his support a mere few months ago.
In a(n admittedly extremely) brief interview with Outsports.com founder and columnist (and Patriots fan) Cyd Ziegler at this past summer’s ESPY Awards, Gronkowski went on record saying 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 part of the press corps attending the ESPYs, Ziegler had been talking with several athletes about their thoughts regarding 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,” relates Ziegler. “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 be alright 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, where reflex reactions are often immortalized in the great wasteland of the Internet. Who knows what Gronkowski would have tweeted had he chosen to do so 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, where 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 him adjusting to a sports culture where gay acceptance is becoming less of a taboo, and more of a norm, than admitting that he is a homophobe seems as good a place as any for Spikes to start that personal transformation.