News & Politics

Meet the Lobbyist Trying to Segregate the NFL

Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman says he has congressional support to keep gay players out of the NFL, but he is probably just starved for attention.

A lobbyist who claims he runs Washington’s top-rated political advisory firm says he is working on a bill that would prohibit gay athletes from playing in the NFL, and says he is building a “tidal wave” of congressional support.

“I don’t think I’ve felt more passionately about anything in my life,” says Jack Burkman, who earlier Monday blasted out what appeared to be a flamboyantly optimistic press release. But Burkman says he is deadly serious about using the law to segregate the nation’s most popular professional sport based on sexual orientation.

Burkman started working on his bill after Michael Sam, a top-rated defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, came out publicly earlier this month and is now on track to become the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. Burkman says he is afraid of the prospect of Sam sharing a locker room with professional football players.

“Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man,” Burkman says in his press release. “That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?”

Sam has said in interviews that he never faced any harrassment from his Missouri teammates and has received scores of supportive reactions from the NFL, most of its 32 teams, and many active players. But the Arlington-based Burkman, who, judging from his website splits his time between lobbying Congress and fomenting gay panic, appears oblivious.

Burkman also believes that he is representing a majority he says is silenced by political correctness. “I think most people agree with this, but the nation has become mentally paralyzed because the establishment media has turned this into an issue,” he says. “It’s almost like what the Nazis did in the 1930s.”

Burkman doesn’t stop at the Nazis. If the NFL is going to have openly gay players, he continued, teams should be forced to build separate facilities. “You have people who are sexually attracted to each other. How can we have them naked together? Should the football players and the cheerleaders have the same locker room? I’m focused on the issue of sexual attraction.”

“I think there should be forced segregation because it’s the same thing as having a woman in the locker room,” he says. “I’m trying to force the NFL to have separate facilities or ban gays from playing.”

As for his supposed “tidal wave” of support for implementing Jim Crow-style policies on professional football, Burkman says it will give congressional Republicans cover against right-wing primary challengers. “We have six people who are committed in the House,” he says, though he refuses to name names. “My projection is within three weeks I will have 36 members in the House and six in the Senate.”

Burkman says some of his political clients could use gay footballers as a wedge issue in their home states, but, he adds, “I have no clients who are relevant to this. I speak to this philosophically.”

Of course, as a privately run organization composed of 32 independent businesses, the NFL would be a difficult thing for the federal government to regulate. Burkman thinks he’d prevail in court in the face of a constitutional challenge because the NFL has not regulated itself.

“My feeling is that if they don’t want to take a proper step, we have to take a proper step for them,” Burkman says.

Spokespeople for the NFL did not respond to a request for a reaction to Burkman’s announcement, and we can’t really fault them.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.