Leading up to the Grey Cup, it's easy to focus mostly on purely on-field issues, and perhaps that's why a courageous move by members of the Toronto Argonauts hasn't received wide attention. Last Friday, in advance of Sunday's East Final, a time when many players and coaches are just trying to avoid saying anything remotely controversial, Argonauts' receiver Mike Bradwell and offensive lineman Joe Eppele spoke with Xtra's Andrea Houston about how they would welcome a gay teammate. Here's video of their conversation, from Xtra's site:
And here are some of the key quotes from that video, as cited in Houston's article:
If a gay teammate was to come out, Eppele and Bradwell want them to know that they will be in their corner.
"Unfortunately [homophobia] is still a reality for teams," Eppele says. "Much of it stems from that stubborn, jock mentality that some guys still hold onto in sports. I think people are starting to become more open minded. It's a slow progression, but a progression nonetheless."
"If more [gay] athletes feel comfortable in the locker room and are willing to come out about the issue, then I think people who are younger in the sport will feel comfortable admitting it as well."
Bradwell says Toronto may soon see the Argos marching in the Toronto Pride Parade. "Why not? We're a pretty diverse team. We're accepting of everything, so why not?"
This is a pretty impressive stand by Bradwell and Eppele, but although it's been noted by sites that cover gay and lesbian news such as Outsports, it hasn't really received a lot of attention in more mainstream media outlets. That could be said for the subject of gay athletes in the CFL as a whole; I've been covering this league regularly for three years now, and this is the first piece I recall seeing on the subject. On the one hand, at least the league and its players aren't regularly in the news for homophobia (although Khalif Mitchell came sort of close last week). On the other hand, is the CFL missing an opportunity?
Keep in mind that this is a league that historically has been a place where the neglected, overlooked and discriminated-against have thrived. From black quarterbacks like Bernie Custis, Chuck Ealey and Warren Moon to Chinese-Canadians like Normie Kwong to those players who merely weren't considered to have the right physical build for the NFL (Doug Flutie, Cameron Wake, Stefan Logan and many more), the CFL's thrived by generally operating according to the You Can Play Project's motto: "If you can play, you can play." Thus, would it not make sense for league officials to boldly state that the CFL is a discrimination-free zone, putting the league in line with its past and proclaiming that it will treat athletes fairly regardless of sexual orientation going forward?
Plenty of athletes in other sports, including the NFL, have voiced their support for anti-homophobia initiatives, and this is becoming an increasingly-prominent issue. It's also already spread to the team level: the AHL's Toronto Marlies became the first pro sports team to take a pledge from You Can Play Wednesday committing them to supporting their athletes, coaches and fans regardless of sexual orientation. Bradwell and Eppele's comments are a great start, but there's so much more that CFL teams and the league itself could do.
To be fair, the Argonauts and the league have done some work with You Can Play, including giving the organization a role in the Grey Cup Festival's Bullying Prevention Day Tuesday, but there's much more that can be done. What if the league and its teams signed on to a pledge like the Marlies did, saying that no one in this sport will be judged by sexual orientation? It would be a tremendous move that would cost very little, bring huge publicity and re-establish the CFL in its historic role as a tolerant, ahead-of-the-curve league. Bradwell and Eppele's courage to speak out here provide an excellent starting point, but here's hoping their comments lead to something more.