No Equality Yet
Less than one week ago, the NFL draft — in and of itself a terribly boring thing to watch — found itself in the center of a media blitzkrieg when openly gay player Michael Sam became the first such player to be drafted. His reaction was televised live and included a very heartfelt kiss with his boyfriend in reaction to the good news.
Some perspective for non sports fans — Michael Sam was the Defensive Player of the Year in the NCAA Southeastern Conference, or SEC. The SEC is widely considered the most competitive and elite of the college football conferences. Other NFL players from the SEC include Emmit Smith, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Champ Bailey. Generally speaking, the SEC players are very good; in several recent years more NFL draftees hailed from colleges that were members of the SEC than from any other conference. Michael Sam was the best at what he did in a conference considered the best in the game. The fact that he was drafted based on talent is little surprise. The fact that he was drafted next-to-last is of mild surprise, despite the fact that several teams and high-profile players commented than his sexuality would have no bearing on his draft status. What is sadly surprising is the amount of open bigotry displayed since the airing of Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend in celebration.
Right now a Google search of “Michael Sam kiss” yields 114 million results. The first page focuses nearly entirely on the homophobic and bigoted reaction from members of various local media organizations — most prominently a female TV personality from the Dallas – Fort Worth area who became so incensed at the idea of ESPN “pushing their agenda” and giving her “no choice but to watch this kiss” that she stormed off the morning set when two of her co-hosts disagreed with her.
We have reached the odd balance point, where an openly gay potential NFL player can get drafted — and quickly generate the 2nd fastest player jersey in history — yet in the process of kissing his boyfriend in spontaneous celebration help reveal just how narrow minded large swaths of society remain. Some of the remarks have been as outrageous as “I don’t want my children being forced to see that kind of thin”, when nearly every stadium or arena has a “kiss cam” that at some point during the game will distract the fans with images of heterosexual couples in the stands kissing or being encouraged to kiss. The audacity of the double-standard is stunning.
Let us not be downtrodden, though. After all, we’ve now seen the NBA and the NFL — two of the most testosterone driven sports organizations in the United States — feature an openly gay player. This is progress, let there be no doubt, the pace of which is yet to be determined. Slowly public perception will shift and this will stop being a source of controversy. In the mean time, as Galinda from “Wicked” would say, we’ve got an awfully long way to go.
Stay SINful, friends.