I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys in the 90s. The first athlete whose name I ever learned – my first idol – was Troy Aikman, followed closely by Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. I have been a die-hard Cowboys fan ever since.
I am happy, then, to hear Michael Irvin speak out against homophobia in the NFL. Irvin, whose late brother was gay, has become a proponent of equal rights for gays. He spoke recently with Out Magazine about his brother, homosexuality in the NFL, and his own history of womanizing:
It was a Friday evening in Fort Lauderdale, warm and clear, like so many that 12-year-old Michael Irvin had experienced growing up in southern Florida. He was riding in a car with his father, Walter, a roofer by trade who spent what little spare time he had operating as the local Primitive Baptist minister. The two were heading home after an errand that was a regular payday ritual: Walter would drive into town to buy cigars and then drop off money with Michael’s grandmother to help with her bills. It was the late 1970s, a time of strife in America, and young Michael had already seen a lot in his low-income neighborhood. But nothing prepared him for what happened next.
As Walter drove up Northwest 27th Avenue, about to turn onto 16th Street, his son noticed a man who looked just like his older brother, Vaughn, walking away from their house toward “all the craziness in the ’hood,” Irvin remembers. It couldn’t be Vaughn: “This man was wearing women’s clothes.” But it was. “My brother had a very distinctive walk,” he says.
Irvin couldn’t believe his eyes. He turned to his father. “My dad looked back at me and said, ‘Yes, that’s your brother. And you love your brother.’ ”
Growing up, Irvin greatly admired his brother Vaughn, who was a successful bank manager while still living in “the ’hood,” says Irvin. That success made him “God” in his younger brother’s eyes. “He was the smartest, most charismatic man I’d ever seen in my life. We would all say, ‘Can you believe — white people put Vaughn in charge of all that money?!’ ” The boys had similar personalities: Both were gregarious and got along with just about everyone. As the 15th child of 17, Irvin wore Vaughn’s hand-me-downs as a boy, and they grew up in close quarters. Even as Irvin kept the secret of Vaughn’s sexual orientation, he remained close to him until Vaughn died of stomach cancer at the age of 49 in 2006.
Irvin is certain that, in light of today’s relatively more enlightened attitudes, a team would have no choice but to embrace their gay teammate. He also notes that his 2009 appearance on Dancing With the Stars would never have happened 10 years ago, when he was still embodying the macho stereotype. “No way, man. I could not have done that kind of thing before.” (He made it to seventh place on the contest, but says it was tough: “There’s a difference between being quick on your toes on the field and going heel-to-toe on the dance floor.”)
So now that society has loosened up, is it wrong for a gay player to hide his sexuality, or is he still entitled to his privacy? “I think it’s his own preference, who he wants to share that with. But I would like to see players come forward and be happy with who they are.
“Hopefully, as we move forward, we’ll get to a place where there’s no way it’s even considered; it just is what it is and everybody can do what they do. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Michael also did an interview on NFL Total Acess about the subject:
I’m as guilty as anyone out there, and I’ve said negative things, offensive things, without knowledge of it … (which is) ignorance. I think we should all flip the coin and get knowledge out about not offending people and spread the knowledge about it. We did it out of ignorance. Let’s make sure it doesn’t perpetuate in ignorance.
I wish the best of luck to Irvin in his endeavor for equality in sports, and hope that more prominent athletes speak out for equality and acceptance.