Now that former N.F.L. star Darren Sharper has been charged with six counts of rape in two states, maybe we can have a conversation about locker room showers. Don’t worry, this won’t be NSFW. (Or maybe it will. I don’t choose the graphics, and my editor is kind of a pervert.)
Accusations against Sharper now include nine rapes in five states, including Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. Reportedly, in all of these instances, Sharper plied his victims with laced drinks, causing them to black out. Horrible if true, but it’s also a good segue to talk about Michael Sam, Jason Collins, and the changing nature of professional sports.
Let’s play a little thought experiment. Seriously, let’s say that Sharper comes out of retirement to pay his legal fees, and gets signed to a team by August. Would anyone on his team, anonymously or otherwise, comment on the prospect of showering with an accused rapist? Would EPSN devote 800 programming hours to breaking down the complexities of spending time day in and day out with someone who enjoys sexually assaulting unconscious women? Would the first topic on “Around the Horn” be a debate about whether Sharper’s teammates can trust him?
This isn’t some far-fetched scenario, sharing a locker room with an accused rapist. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers or the L.A. Lakers. Why did no one during the legal troubles of Ben Roethlisberger or Kobe Bryant say they no longer felt comfortable being naked around someone on trial for rape? Why were no sportswriters complaining about the unfairness of forcing a deviant lifestyle upon their teammates?
But we are having that conversation about a gay man, Michael Sam. Not a gay man on trial facing rape charges, mind you, just a gay man. Because apparently the 24% of NFL players say showering with a gay man would make them uncomfortable.
Those 24% aren’t, presumably, worried that Michael Sam is going to attempt to reenact “American History X” during their postgame shower. They’re afraid that Michael Sam will eye them a little too close, or perhaps make suggestive comments like the ones they throw at women all the time. “Damn, that ass fine,” or something like that. At best, the implication is that much of the sporting world is flatly misogynistic; violence against women is one thing, but how dare we make a man feel uncomfortable or insecure.
There’s no “locker room controversy” about an honest-to-god sexual deviant. People will condemn the guy personally, sure, but that’s as far as it goes. Criminal history or legal troubles aren’t taken as seriously as having to deal with law-abiding man who happens to be gay.