Sports Writer Dave Zirin: 'Homophobia Is Baked So Deeply Into The Cake Of Football' | KUOW News and Information

Sports Writer Dave Zirin: 'Homophobia Is Baked So Deeply Into The Cake Of Football'

Jan 13, 2016

After Odell Beckham hit Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman with fists and helmet in December, the NFL suspended him for a game.

But what had angered the Giants’ star wide receiver? Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, says homophobic slurs allegedly had been hurled at Beckham.

And what was done about that? Nothing, Zirin told KUOW’s Bill Radke.

“These types of slurs in other sports would gain immediate penalties from the refs. Not so much in the NFL,” Zirin said.

In 2014, the NFL said it would have zero tolerance on anti-gay slurs. In the Beckham case, the NFL said it investigated and found no evidence that Panthers players had used anti-gay language. And Panthers coach Ron Rivera denied it.

But Michael Irvin, a Hall of Famer who has been a mentor to Beckham, told the New York Daily News that the flashy young player had confided in him that he’d been the target of homophobic slurs all season.

“Now as unacceptable as homophobia is in any form, the Panthers took it … to another level,” Zirin said.

And things didn’t end there. The following week, Carolina suffered its only loss of the season. Zirin said Panthers players thought Norman lost a necessary edge over the criticism that followed the Giants game.

“That’s who the Seattle Seahawks are up against this weekend,” he said.

After winning a squeaker against Minnesota, the Seahawks travel to Charlotte, N.C., for the divisional round of the playoffs. The game against Carolina starts at 10:05 a.m. PST Sunday.

There’s a marked difference between the NFL and some other sports over homophobia, Zirin said.

“In the NBA, you have institutional opposition to homophobia in a way that you don’t in the NFL,” he said. “If you drop a gay slur and it’s reported by a referee, you get fined. That’s a very different kind of reaction than in the NFL, where after the Josh Norman-Odell Beckham incident … nothing.”

And why is that? Zirin thinks “homophobia is baked so deeply into the cake of football in a way that it’s not in other sport. Maybe that’s the violence, maybe that’s the toxic masculinity. Maybe it goes back to Teddy Roosevelt defining people who didn’t play tackle football 100 years ago as sissies.”

And what does that mean for Seahawks fans, paying with their TV-watching time and with their money for those 12th Man jerseys?

“Write letters to the team and to the local press and to the radio station asking players on the Seattle Seahawks to openly stand up against homophobia and say that it has no place in the National Football League,” Zirin said.

“Don’t maintain the code of silence that does exist. To be silent ... is a form of acceptance.”