Monday, May 12, 2014

Kissing Michael Sam

Michael Sam is the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. Many people are asking, what’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that this has never happened in any major American pro sports league. Ever. Even in a country where gays have been acceptable targets of open bigotry (at least until recently), sports especially stands out as a bastion of gay-bashing.

It’s been less than a year since the first-ever active player came out. Given sexual statistics in America, it’s highly unlikely that no pro player in any sport was gay until Jason Collins came along. Indeed, several athletes have disclosed their sexual inclination after retiring, which proves that gay players have had to repress their true selves — and likely endure endless streams of insensitivity — to get by. They might have even felt pressured to join in on the gay-bashing. Such denial of self is never something to celebrate, nor should it be mourned when progress is made against it.

Every barrier broken against bigotry represents the positive evolution of society. Sam was drafted because of his abilities and potential, to be sure, but the fact that he wasn’t damaged goods because of his homosexuality is significant. That absolutely deserves to be celebrated. This time.

Next time, such a pick will be ordinary. Good.

And now, to address a few points courtesy of our enlightened friends here and here:

• Regarding Sam kissing his boyfriend upon his selection: I’ll admit that public kissing in general makes me uncomfortable. If the kiss is genuinely affectionate, I feel sort of voyeuristic. If it’s a case of trying too hard, I roll my eyes. Either way, I tend to turn my glance away. But that’s my issue, and I would certainly never suggest that people stop kissing in public because of it. (Anyway, no one saw my face at junior prom, so I relinquished that authority long ago.) So the short answer on the uncomfortableness of public displays of affection is this: look away if it bothers you.

If you were repulsed at the notion that Sam might kiss his boyfriend on live television after being selected in the NFL draft, well, you didn’t have to watch. You knew it was coming, and there are plenty of other channels featuring hard-line religion, monosyllabic mass murder and everything else apparently preferable to two men in love showing mild affection for each other at a life-changing moment. Or, there’s also not TV, since your skin is that thin.

I’m impressed that ESPN showed the buss; I honestly wasn’t sure they would. They could have easily capitulated to the Christian right’s intense persecution complex and censored themselves. But they didn’t because, like the rest of us, they thought it was a pretty watershed moment. For once, I was happy to witness a kiss.

• Oh, and don’t worry about the extensive damage the kiss did to your children’s psyches. They probably thought nothing of it until you raised a stink. (Come to think of it, racism starts the same way.) In any case, your children will grow up to think of anti-gay hate the same way we think of racial bigotry today: like a relic of a shameful past, adhered to only by those who insist they don't really feel that way.

• Michael Sam is not Bizarro Tim Tebow. Yes, people make fun of Tebow as they tend to do with public figures who give them fodder, but that isn’t persecution. Tebow is an insufferably sanctimonious Christian in America, where it’s socially acceptable to be an insufferably sanctimonious Christian. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay. Tebow would have been drafted that year. So spare me the comparisons.

But even if that comparison was justified, why would that make it OK for the right to attack Sam? Couldn’t that just be an example of how immature the left is, and how much classier the right acts? Apparently not.

Tebow and Sam do have one thing in common — their careers live and die by their skills. Being gay won’t save Sam if he’s a bust any more than Christianity saved Tebow. Because, ultimately, it’s all about ability. It always should have been. We’re one step closer to that ideal now.

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