Vince Lombardi

What comes to mind when you think of Vince Lombardi? For most, it’s probably that blue-collar style of coaching, and the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” approach to football and life that made him a folk hero to football fans. Winning at all costs. Classic American values, leaving it all on the field, blah blah, and all that other good stuff you would hear about in an NFL films profile of the Packers’ legendary head coach.

I have to admit, though I never really wondered what Vince Lombardi would think of an openly gay professional athlete or homosexuality in general, his “old school” reputation would have led me to believe that he probably wasn’t too fond of it. If you showed me a devoutly Christian middle aged man today, I’d put the chances of him being especially gay-friendly at about, oh I don’t know, 50/50? Perhaps being a bit generous. But one born in 1913? And a football coach? Those guys are all homophobic, misogynistic meatheads, right?

Wrong, of course. Like Chris Broussard and the many others in sports and media who used Jason Collins’ groundbreaking announcement to proudly display their ignorance to the world, my prejudices led me to be wrong about Vince Lombardi, as I learned today. In the midst of an argument on Twitter about Collins, Packers beat writer Jason Wilde called attention to a Tweet saying that Lombardi actively tried to find gay players that could make his teams. I doubted the legitimacy, so I did some Googling and found the following from Wikipedia:

Lombardi’s unprejudiced attitude was not confined to his players’ race or ethnicity. Lombardi was aware of tight end Jerry Smith’s homosexuality, and upon arriving in Washington, told Smith in confidence that it would never be an issue as long as he was coaching the Redskins. Smith flourished, becoming an integral part of Lombardi’s offense, and was voted a First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career, which was also Lombardi’s only season as Redskin head coach. Lombardi invited other gay players to training camp, and Lombardi would privately hope they would prove they could earn a spot on the team. At the Washington Redskins training camp in 1969, Ray McDonald was a gay player, with sub-par skills, who was trying to make the Redskin roster again[citation needed], but this time with Lombardi as the Redskins’ new head coach. Lombardi told running back coach, George Dickson, ‘I want you to get on McDonald and work on him and work on him – 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.’

The Wikipedia excerpt uses David Maraniss’ biography When Pride Still Mattered as its source, so it’s legit. Vince Lombardi: More accepting of homosexuality than a significant portion of America today. The legend grows.