Jun
22
2021

Vince Lombardi: Champion of Gay Rights

Earlier this week, Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. He did so by posting a video on social media, also announcing a $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project. The project is an organization meant to counsel and helps LGBTQ+ youth who are suicidal.

There have been, of course, many homosexual men who have played in the NFL. Nassib is the first, though, to come out while still playing in the league. Many have come out after their playing days were over, while others carried their secret to their graves.

Undoubtedly, many “old school” football minds will attack Nassib, displaying the kind of bigotry and hatred that have scared so many into hiding. After all, in 2013, one NFL coordinator had this to say about the possibility of an openly gay player playing in the NFL:

Thankfully, Comissioner Roget Goodell has released a statement on behalf of the NFL, showing that the attitude and beliefs expressed above will not be tolerated in the NFL any longer:

Vince Lombardi Would Have Loved This

Back in 2013, NBA player Jason Collins became the first active player in any of America’s four major sports to come out as gay. At the time, Vince Lombardi’s daughter, Susan, in an interview with ESPN, stated: “I think it’s great what Jason Collins did because it’s going to open a lot of doors for people. Without a doubt, my father would’ve embraced him, and would’ve been very proud of him for coming out.”

As it turns out, respect and acceptance for homosexual players was a matter that Coach Lombardi took very seriously:

Lombardi’s Locker Room Was A Safe Place

Vince Lombardi is well-known by football historians for being a proponent of racial equality. He is famously known for saying that the only colors he sees are green and gold when referring to his players. He would avoid staying in hotels that would not allow his African American players to stay either.

The same is true for homosexual players. Throughout his coaching career, Lombardi did not allow the use of homophobic slurs by anyone that he worked with. In 1969, as coach of the Washington Redskins, he worked with five men who were known to be gay. It was an open secret that three of his players and two front office personnel were gay.

When Lombardi tasked one of his coaches to work with one of the gay players who was struggling, he said, “And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”

Lombardi Treated Everyone The Same: Like Dogs

In her interview with ESPN, Lombardi’s daughter said: “Like the saying goes, my father treated them all the same. Like dogs.” Of course, this isn’t exactly true. Lombardi, who faced discrimination as a dark-skinned Italian growing up and as a young coach, just wanted everyone to do their job.

This sentiment was echoed by Richard Nicholls. Nicholls was the partner of Harold Lombardi for over 40 years, up until Harold’s death. Nicholls said, “We once had a conversation where Hal said, ‘I appreciate that Vin treats gays so nicely. He probably does it because of me.'” Nicholls and Harold did not meet until 1970, a year after Vince had died of cancer.

Lombardi’s Legacy

Of course, Vince Lombardi is best remembered for winning five titles in a seven-year span with the Green Bay Packers. These titles included the first two Super Bowls, which led to his name being linked to the trophy forever.

Much more than winning, however, Lombardi left a legacy of love and acceptance. When one of his black players in Green Bay expressed his desire to marry his white fiance, Lombardi was enthused about the idea. This came at a time when others in Wisconsin and around the country were openly opposed to interracial marriages.

Not Vince Lombardi, though. He was always about equality. When Vince Lombardi Jr. was asked how his father would have responded to Jason Collins coming out as gay in 2013, Lombardi’s son, Vince Lombardi Jr., told ESPN, “I think my father would’ve felt, ‘I hope I’ve created an atmosphere in the locker room where this would not be an issue at all. And if you do have an issue, the problem will be yours because my locker room will tolerate nothing but acceptance.'”