The NFL's Houston Oilers had two gay players on its 1993 team, according to interviews with players in The Houston Chronicle, and most significantly, nobody on the team really cared.
The Chronicle's Ultimate Texans blog provided a preview of its coming Sunday piece on the Oilers' tumultuous 1993 season. In extensive interviews, several players acknowledged they didn't care that two "key members" of the team were gay. Pro Bowl linebacker Lamar Lathon, who played on the Oilers from 1990-94, provided the key quote.
“And everybody in the locker room, the consensus knew or had an idea that things were not exactly right. But guess what? When they strapped the pads on and got on the field, man, we were going to war with these guys because they were unbelievable.”
It's not the most enlightened thing to describe the homosexuality of the players, who were not identified by the Chronicle, as "not exactly right," but still, the team's acceptance is a big step for gay football players contemplating coming out. The two players' LGBT status was well-known in the locker room, according to Oilers cornerback Cris Dishman, who played for Houston from 1988-'96. “Everybody knew certain guys (were gay). Everybody speculated and people used to see these two guys come in by themselves. They’d leave at lunchtime and then come back,” he told the Chronicle. Regardless, the two players were "unbelievable teammates," Lathon said. Coming from a team situated in the heart of Texas, that's a big statement. (The Oilers have since moved to Tennessee to become the Titans.)
Acceptance of a gay player among teammates could go a long way toward more athletes coming out publicly in the major sports leagues. When NBA forward Jason Collins came out as gay to Sports Illustrated this spring, he became the first active player in the major major American sports leagues to do so. But Collins has yet to be signed to a team since then, raising questions about the league's acceptance. Similarly, the NFL came close to having a "handful" of gay players come out in unison back in the spring, but "fear" of being ostracized prevailed.
That gay players were accepted back in 1993 — on a playoff team that went 12-4, by the way — works to defeat some of the fears current gay players surely have.