To the executive staff of the Cleveland Browns organization:
I write, not as a fan, but as a survivor of homophobic bullying now leading an anti-violence advocacy organization in Boston. I was deeply pained by the comments of your player “Tank” Carder, which declared his unambiguous hatred for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The anguish has been redoubled by the ensuing, insulting non-apologies from Mr. Carder, and the placatory statement issued by the organization. I think a sterner reprimand is called for.
My concern is that Mr. Carder has reinforced a very hurtful stereotype and given it resonance which could influence the actions of impressionable teenage athletes across America. Although the empirical evidence for this proposition is inconclusive, football players are thought to be especially prone to bullying in high schools—with gender variant youth favored targets of their misconduct. Generally stronger than the kids they target, athletes can do serious damage, and their social status is such that their taunts and abuse are particularly lethal. Mr. Carder has just signaled every homophobic or impressionable “jock” in high school that the elite of the football world, the NFL players, think that LGBT people are “low-lifes” worthy of disrespect, stigmatization, and worse. The word “faggot” has a meaning clear enough to communicate overt hatred at any level of human intelligence.
We now know that bullying is not simply a rite of passage. It impairs academic performance, leads to social isolation, induces depression, and can even prompt suicides. Some targets of bullying become homicidal. If even one high school “jock” is influenced by Mr. Carder’s reckless comments to abuse a vulnerable youth, that is one too many. If Mr. Carder has hereby contributed to bullying that pushes a gay teen over the edge to suicide, he has blood on his hands. His deplorable failure of self-control has ominous repercussions.
Athletes can be very powerful role models to stand against bullying, precisely because they are so often stereotyped as the sort who pick on weaker kids in high school. Unfortunately Mr. Carder, and the Cleveland Browns organization that enables him, are magnifying a serious public health and public safety problem for the country as a whole. One does not have to be a football fan to feel the lash of homophobic abuse. Please do not aid and abet bullying.
Please consider taking steps appropriate to the seriousness of Mr. Carder’s anti-social activity.
Chairperson, the Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts