Famed Football Coach Vince Lombardi: An Ally of Gay Players

Lombardi, who had a gay brother, was accepting of gay athletes and would have lauded Jason Collins for coming out, friends and relatives say.

BY Trudy Ring

May 04 2013 5:41 PM ET

Vince Lombardi

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who famously said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” was reportedly a man ahead of his time in his lack of antigay prejudice, accepting of any gay person who could help him toward that goal.

Lombardi, who coached the Green Bay Packers to several championships in the 1960s, including wins at the first two Super Bowls, had a gay brother, Hal, and worked with several gay men in the NFL, notes Ian O’Connor in a column for ESPNNewYork.com.

“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,” O’Connor writes. “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.”

After his heyday with the Packers, Lombardi coached the Washington Redskins for one season, 1969, the year before his death, and there he worked with three gay players and two gay front-office executives. The players included Dave Kopay, who came out in the mid 1970s, after he retired, and the executives included David Slattery, who came out in 1993.

Lombardi was known for driving his players hard, but he defended them against prejudice-based attacks. O’Connor quotes biographer David Maraniss’s account of Lombardi’s admonition to his staff concerning a gay player named Ray McDonald: “If I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood,” Lombardi reportedly said, “you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”

O’Connor also interviews Hal Lombardi’s longtime partner, Richard Nicholls (Hal died in 2011), and Vince Lombardi’s daughter Susan in the piece. Of newly out basketball player Jason Collins, Susan Lombardi says, “Without a doubt my father would’ve embraced him, and would’ve been very proud of him for coming out.” Read the full column here.
 

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