Long before it was fashionable, Lombardi was a champion of gay athletes, if only because he was a champion of all athletes, at least those who helped him score more touchdowns than the other guy. It didn’t matter if they were white or black, or if they dated men or women or both, or if they dated interracially or not.
Lombardi’s daughter said her father treated everyone the same.
“Like the saying goes,” Susan Lombardi said by phone, “my father treated them all the same. Like dogs.”
Actually, Vincent Thomas Lombardi treated his Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins as anything but. No, winning wasn’t everything, or the only thing. In Lombardi’s playbook, winning placed a distant second to simple human decency.
In 1969, the year before his death, the only year he coached the Redskins, Lombardi worked with at least five gay men — three players and two front-office executives, including David Slattery, who would come out in 1993. In his defining biography, “When Pride Still Mattered,” author David Maraniss described the scene of Lombardi charging an assistant to work with one of the gay players, a struggling back named Ray McDonald. “And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood,” Lombardi is quoted as saying, “you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”
It’s truly amazing how accepting Lombardi was of his gay players. I can’t imagine the type of scrutiny gay people in general received back in the ’60’s. This is truly a testament to what a great man Lombardi was.