The Real Significance of Alan Gendreau
By Chris Mahr
Among all the people and media outlets making a big deal about former Middle Tennessee State placekicker Alan Gendreau attempting to become the first active, openly gay NFL player (including Lost Lettermen) is one notable exception: Alan Gendreau.
“I just want people to know that you can still be who you are, the best person you can be and still be gay,” Gendreau told Outsports’ Cyd Ziegler in the video segment below. “It didn’t matter for me, I didn’t have any problem with it, my friends didn’t have a problem with it. My thing is that I want people to know that it’s okay. That would be my biggest goal in doing all of this.”
As far as acknowledging his being a potential pioneer in men’s professional sports, that’s about as boastful as Gendreau gets. He’s not prone to sweeping statements about righting a wrong. Nor is he someone along the lines of Lauren Silberman, whose March tryout at an NFL regional combine in New Jersey was very evidently done entirely just for the sake of being the first woman to do so.
The reason that Alan Gendreau is kicking again after spending the last year away from football is simply because he wants to kick again. The fact that he’s making his comeback about that first and foremost is worth celebrating almost as much as the possibility of him being a trailblazer.
In a Wednesday column on Grantland detailing the almost nonchalant manner in which Baylor women’s basketball star and No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner revealed her homosexuality, Wesley Morris also discussed the “quiet queering of professional sports.” Athletes like Griner, Gendreau and former MLS player Robbie Rogers are acknowledging their sexual orientation without letting it overshadow or steal away from their athletic identities. It’s just ... another part of who they are.
“Being gay and playing football, there’s no contradiction,” Gendreau also said in his video interview with Ziegler.
That being said, it’d be foolish to suggest that there isn’t more of an assumed contradiction in the world of football than there is in women’s basketball — or, arguably, any other sport for that matter. It’s hard to think of any other sport that more epitomizes red-blooded values and masculinity.
With that in mind, it’s quite telling that over the course of a six-year football career spent in central Florida and central Tennessee — two areas of the country that aren’t exactly 100% amenable to homosexuality — Gendreau’s sexual orientation (he’s been out to his parents since he was 15) barely clashed with what he did on the gridiron. He never experienced pressure being a “gay kicker,” he was just a kicker.
“You don’t see pro athletes flaunting the fact that they’re straight so why would I have to flaunt that I’m gay?” Gendreau said in March 2009, when he allowed Outsports to tell his story while keeping his identity anonymous.
It helped that, like Griner, Gendreau was very good at what he did (if not as dominant). As a sophomore in 2009, he was voted First Team All-Sun Belt. When his collegiate career ended in 2011, he was the conference’s all-time leading scorer (295 points).
His decision not to aggressively pursue an NFL roster spot last offseason after he was on track to do so as a sophomore and junior— his professional aspirations took a hit when he hit just 8-of-14 field goals as a senior, including a 1-for-5 start to the season — stemmed from nothing more than a desired “break from competition,” as he told Ziegler. A break that he’s now ready to come back from.
For all the buzz that Gendreau’s story has generated, it’s important to point out the reality of his situation. He’s been away from the game for a year, and he told Ziegler that he’s about a month away from being physically ready to try out for an NFL team. And few teams are truly looking around for kickers. (Only the Jets and Panthers are expected to select one in the draft, which Gendreau is not entered into.)
His best hope is to 1) Be invited to an NFL team’s OTA; and then 2) Log enough reps to impress either the team he’s trying out for or a team that happens to be paying attention at the right time. Whether he achieves his NFL dream hinges entirely on his right foot.
“The NFL is a business, and they’re going to make business decisions above all else,” former NFL defensive back Wade Davis — who came out publicly last July — told Ziegler. “They want the best players who can help them win. If this kid can kick 50-yarders consistently, then they’ll have him. But if he can’t, they won’t. Him being gay won’t have anything to do with it.”
If Gendreau is fortunate enough to be invited to one or multiples teams’ OTAs, he won’t expect favoritism based on him being a trailblazer. Nor does he expect to be treated like damaged goods. He fully expects to get an honest shot based on nothing but whether he can kick an oblong, pigskin ball between two goal posts.
Gendreau’s video interview with Ziegler ended with him discussing his strategy toward kicking, with him mentioning how “Thinking too much can be your worst enemy.” It’s an apt piece of advice for people who are on the fence about how to think about Gendreau and what he’s trying to do.
He should be thought of as a kicker, trying to impress an NFL team enough that they’ll give him a spot on their roster. The way Gendreau sees it — and the way we should all see it — the rest is just details.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.
Photos Credit: Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports