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The next frontier

Coles' admission may lead NFL out of closet

Posted: Friday September 23, 2005 11:30AM; Updated: Friday September 23, 2005 11:30AM
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Laveranues Coles
Laveranues Coles' bravery in admitting his abuse may open the door for more players to reveal their personal struggles off the field.
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Because he is bold enough to race across the middle and reach for passes where hard-hitters like Roy Williams and Troy Polamaalu lurk, New York Jets wideout Laveranues Coles is one of many NFL players who can be accurately lauded for his courage.

But what Coles did last week, in an interview with the New York Times's Karen Crouse, required far more bravery. The 27-year-old Coles revealed that he had been sexually abused as a child by his stepfather.

That's something you don't read in the sports pages very often, and it's a testament to both the journalist and the athlete that the most sensitive of issues was made public. I don't know Crouse or Coles, but I have to marvel at the comfort level that could have made such a difficult and frank conversation possible.

It's the kind of story I wish I could have written, and it occurs to me that the profile I've long dreamed of penning is still there for the taking.

Someday, perhaps soon, an active NFL player is going to reveal to a reporter that he is gay -- and I want to be that journalist.

This is not to say that I am overly concerned with the sexuality of the players I cover. I trade gossip as much as the next hack, but I would never, ever view outing an athlete as part of my job description. The only way I'd feel comfortable writing about a gay football player would be if that player were on board, pure and simple.

As you read this, many of you are saying to yourselves, "Fat chance, Lois Lane. No NFL player in his right mind will ever admit he's gay." I hear you; it would undoubtedly be a nightmare for the guy, whether he were a superstar or a previously anonymous special-teamer. He'd be ridiculed publicly and within his own locker room. The comment that former 49ers running back Garrison Hearst made to the Fresno Bee a few years ago -- "I don't want any faggots on my team" -- has been echoed by numerous players I've talked to in less formal settings over the years.

And yet, as rough as it might be on the first player who comes out of the closet, I have this sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't be nearly as brutal for the second, third and fourth. Perhaps, as we theoretically become more comfortable as a society with racial, ethnic and cultural differences, we'll be able to wrap our heads around the notion that people of the same gender can love one another without civilization collapsing.