One day before LSU’s spring game, running back Alfred Blue’s reaction to the notion of having a gay teammate drew scrutiny and a scramble for clarification Friday after appearing in a student newspaper story on how the Tigers would treat a teammate if he came out.
In a story by The Daily Reveille, the senior and Boutte native said a player crossing that barrier might be deemed “sissy.” But in an audio of the complete interview later released on the newspaper’s website, Blue added that a player’s sexual preference wouldn’t matter if they were “doing their job contributing to help us win a national championship.”
In the quote used by The Daily Reveille in both its newspaper and online reports, Blue said, “Football is supposed to be this violent sport — this aggressive sport that grown men are supposed to play. Ain’t no little boys out here between them lines. So if you gay, we look at you as a sissy. You know? Like, how you going to say you can do what we do and you want a man?”
The story, which ran Friday, was rooted in recent reports that an active professional male athlete in one of four professional sports leagues may reveal his sexual preference is for men. Reporter Mike Gegenheimer quoted four Tigers players, including Blue, along with coach Les Miles.
The timing was poor for the program, which has its spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday, and an athletic department whose administrators and advisors underwent requested LGBT sensitivity training earlier this week.
Yet audio of the roughly three-minute interview, which was posted around 7 p.m. Friday, added context to Blue’s incendiary and homophobic remark.
Specifically, Gegenheimer asked Blue whether “the nature of football makes it more difficult for something like that to come out?”
The query drew the response that led to Blue’s controversial remark, but immediately afterward he injected a critical followup caveat.
“But like I said, it probably is hard for someone to come out knowing all that goes through somebody’s mind,” Blue said.
Ronda Williams, an assistant coordinator for multicultural affairs at LSU, whose office works closely with the school’s on-campus LGBT organization expressed disappointment with Blue’s initial statement.
“We’re doing our best as an institution to kind of break those things and comments on campus,” Williams said. “As an institution, we’d never back comments like that, but we can’t prevent ignorance from coming out of people’s mouths.”
Early Friday evening, LSU issued an apology from Blue in the form of a statement for comments that “may have sounded insensitive.”
“I in no way meant to belittle any person’s way of life and feel that everyone deserves a chance to become whatever they want to be,” Blue said.
LSU spokesman Michael Bonnette said Blue was interviewed last week by the Reveille and was aware the paper was working on a story but not when it would be published. In an afternoon meeting, Blue said the reporters omitted a portion of his remarks where he gave a detailed explanation about how all that mattered was what the player brought to the team, Bonnette said.
“I told the reporter that if any person can help to contribute to the team, then that is the bottom line,” Blue said in his statement. “I apologize if anyone was hurt by my comments and also to everyone that I may have let down.”
The audio of the interview, which was posted after LSU released its statement, potentially lends credence to that assertion, specifically a followup question asked by Gegenheimer.
“How do you think this specific LSU locker room would react to someone coming out?” Gegenheimer said.
Blue responded the Tigers “would come to accept them” and any harassment would be dealt with in a team meeting.
“I’m pretty sure coach Miles would sit the team down and talk about the situation and explain to us, even though that’s how he wants to be,” Blue said. “It doesn’t change how he contributes to this team.”
For her part, Williams was curious as to the circumstances, such as the setting and questions, posed to Blue that drew out the inflammatory quote.
“It’s not OK to make these statements in random conversations or in locker rooms, but in context they can be taken differently,” Williams said. “I had no clue who did this interview with him, and was this a quote who knew was going to come out.”
Comments from LSU offensive guard Trai Turner, quarterback Stephen Rivers and kicker James Hairston reflected an acceptance that skewed more toward professional over friendly.
“College football is a business and you have to conduct yourself in a manner where you respect everyone you deal with,” Turner told the paper. “I feel like if the person is gay, he must still conduct himself in the manner of a football player, and if a person isn’t gay, he must still look at the person who views himself as gay, or says he is gay, as his teammate.”
Those sentiments, while clearly not fully backed acceptance, were enough to be lauded by Williams.
“There was a level of compassion,” Williams said. “Nobody said, ‘We love it. We want tons of LGBT people on our football team.’ It just said, they’re teammates. If they can play, they play. I’m really glad that was highlighted, and that this isn’t the opinion of the entire LSU football team.”
Meanwhile, Miles’ comments to the paper were measured. The Tigers coach said he would do “what’s best for the team,” but focused less on adapting the team’s culture. Instead, he said the program and athletic administration would evaluate logistical matters, such as how to handle accommodations in the locker room and hotel assignments on road trips.
“I would treat him, and expect his teammates to treat him, in an appropriate and straightforward manner,” Miles told the paper. “If that’s not an issue, I think things could be resolved.”
Members of the athletic administration met “either Monday or Tuesday” for training with Chad Freeman, who is an LGBT coordinator, to “handle situations such as this one, actually,” Williams said. She added the training must be requested by a department but did not know what advisors or senior staff might have attended.
Williams expected Blue’s comments to receive internal discussion early next week.
“I’m guessing Monday, our LGBT organization may need to discuss this and talk about any ways they’ve been affected by those comments,” Williams said.
By Friday afternoon, posts referencing Blue’s comments appeared on popular college football blogs such as Dr. Saturday on Yahoo! and SBNation’s Everyday Should Be Saturday, and were retweeted consistently on Twitter.
Hairston, who is a junior placekicker for LSU, told the student paper fruitful discussion on the issue of accepting gay teammates “needs to come to the forefront, that does need to be talked about.”
Awkward as it might be, Blue’s comments might have spurred such a critical step toward a broader dialogue about attitudes toward the LGBT community on campus and in Baton Rouge.
“I want to say it was an isolated incident, but it isn’t,” Williams said. “I just hope it won’t happen here again.”