He is known as one of the best receivers of all time, and one of the most polarizing players as well. Since college, Michael Irvin has garnered people’s attention for his incredible skills on the football field as well as a personality that was barely contained by his football equipment. This guy could play, and he definitely could talk. Legendary. (Just one of the many videos on YouTube featuring Irvin)
Irvin was recently featured on the cover of OUT magazine talking about his brother who was gay, his own perceptions of what it must be like for gay athletes, and his commitment to creating an environment that is open to these individuals.
One of Irvin’s points – that he would not care whether a teammate was gay or straight, just that he could play – echoes that of Charles Barkley from a couple of months ago. And it is reflective of what seems to be the feeling of many athletes and fans.
A 2006 Sports Illustrated survey asked pro basketball, football and hockey players whether they would “welcome an openly gay teammate.” Over half the athletes polled from the NFL, NBA, and NHL said yes. In another poll, conducted in 2005 by the market research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, 78 percent of the 979 randomly surveyed Americans agreed that it is “okay for gay athletes to participate in sports, even if they are open about their sexuality.” In a 2007 national survey by Witeck-Combs Communications and Harris Interactive, 72S% of heterosexual adults say they would not change their feelings toward a ‘favorite’ male professional athlete if the athlete revealed he is gay. This represents an increase from 66% in 2002, when heterosexual adults were asked the same survey question.
That is the beauty of sports. While people are sometimes turned off by an over-emphasis on winning, it is surely an important factor in the position held by Irvin, Barkley and countless others. Do your best, play as hard as you can, and you can be a teammate of mine any day of the week.
Sports are defined by individuals with different styles, personalities, and behaviors. Michael Irvin certainly fits that description. Sports are also defined by the ideals of inclusion and merit. Irvin is trying to show that he fits that description as well and that he wants that to be his ultimate legacy. We applaud him and others with the same goals.