Do you know who Michael Sam is? He's attempting to make history as the first openly gay man to land on a National Football League (NFL) roster a few short weeks from now.
I should start by saying that I absolutely love, love, love football. What you may not know is, as a man with a wife and two little girls, I'm also a strong supporter of the gay and lesbian community. When I first learned about Mr. Sam sharing the news of his sexuality, I was absolutely thrilled. This is a guy who won the Co-Defensive Player of the Year Award in the best conference in college football this past season. In other words, from a sheer talent perspective, he's a guy that most NFL teams would love to have on their rosters. We won't have to wait very long to see how this news impacts his NFL future, but, in the meantime, let's talk about how this impacts life in general.
As I surfed the Internet over the past 48 hours, I was happy to see that many people reacted to the story positively. As a black man (and a black man who blogs about fatherhood, no less), I understand on a small scale what it's like to receive anonymous hateful comments from cowards and other unenlightened souls, but nothing I've received will compare to what this young man will receive in the coming months.
Here are a few of the reactions I've seen and my reactions to all of them:
1. People who think this is not a big deal. Wrong. Hopefully in ten years this won't be a big deal, but this is a HUGE deal right now. He was one of the best players in all of college football this past season. His position on the field requires an extreme amount of strength, aggression and toughness in order to be successful. In essence, he completely smashed paradigms about what it means to be a gay man playing sports. To a guy like me who supports gay men and women, I personally don't find it newsworthy that he's gay. However, I do think it's a big deal when someone announces to the world that he will be the first openly gay man to enter a workplace that is known for its "tough guy/fraternity boy" culture.
2. People who think it's unfair to put other players in a position where they have to be in a locker room with a gay man and shower with him. This is by far the most juvenile, uneducated and just plain stupid argument there is. Fellow straight men, let me ask you something: When you go into work, do you hit on every human being with a vagina? Do you make every woman in your office feel uncomfortable by undressing them with your eyes whenever they walk by? Of course not, and if you were dumb enough to do it, chances are you'd get fired for harassment.
Oh wait, you're going to tell me it's different because the women in your office aren't naked like men in a locker room, right? Where do people get the idea that gays are predators just waiting to jump on top of every unsuspecting penis they come across? I don't blame them for finding that to be extremely offensive and insulting. This young man will soon be a professional athlete and his job is to play football. He's not there to find a date or get some action.
And here's a newsflash: If you played sports in high school or college, or if you've taken a shower in a public place (gym, recreational center, etc.), you've been in the shower with a gay person before. Additionally, that gay person saw your junk and your naked ass. Did anyone jump your bones or throw any cat calls in your direction?
3. People who ask, "Why doesn't he just keep it to himself?" Why should he? Imagine if women and blacks kept their mouths shut when they were mistreated throughout history? Would progress have been made? It could've been Susan B. Anthony or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but it always started with one person who said, "Enough of this crap, it's time for a change." You know what happened when Ms. Anthony and Dr. King spoke out? Some people became uncomfortable. They received opposition from people who didn't want to hear about women having the same rights to vote as men. They received opposition from people who didn't want to hear about blacks being treated the same as whites. But these pioneers kept pushing forward to facilitate a dialogue that ultimately changed the course of American history, because that's what pioneers do.
Whether he chooses to be or not, Mr. Sam is a pioneer. A pioneer who will open up a dialogue about gays and make it a welcomed topic in the mainstream. If the topic makes you uncomfortable, I'm sorry, but that's a "you problem." For people who still think he should keep it to himself, think of it this way: Somewhere there are young men and women scared to death about someone finding out about their sexuality. If Mr. Sam can enter a professional football locker room (the alleged "manliest of manly places") as an openly gay man, maybe those people can feel more comfortable about being who they are and stop hiding in the shadows. That's why he shouldn't keep it to himself.
4. People who say, "Any team that drafts him will suffer because of this." When he shared this news with his teammates in August (the same teammates who won a measly five total games during the 2012 season), they rallied around their team captain and best player in his most vulnerable moment and won 12 games during the 2013 season. Most importantly, his teammates kept his story under wraps until he was ready to release it, because they liked and respected the man so much.
That sure sounds like a guy who destroyed team chemistry in the locker room to me. (Sarcasm Font is now turned off.)
If a team complains about the "media circus distractions" stemming from signing a gay player, then they obviously lack the requisite veteran leadership and coaching to be successful anyway. The New England Patriots (a team with veteran leadership and coaching) had to deal with the media circus surrounding Tim Tebow during the preseason and an alleged murderer being released from its roster during the regular season. And guess what? The Pats were one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. I hardly think those "distractions" impacted their objectives on the field.
Most professional football coaches and athletes care about the answer to one question: "Can you help us to win games?" If the answer is yes (and when it comes to Mr. Sam, most people think it is), he will have a long career in the NFL, trust me.
5. People who say, "He just wants to use this to get famous." Yeah, because the best way to get famous is to open himself up to a ridiculous amount of hate from homophobes and Neanderthals. Stop it.
6. People who say, "If he's getting hate, he deserves it. He CHOOSES to be gay." For anyone who follows that line of thinking, try this out: Fellow straight people, take a moment to find that "switch" in your head. You know what I'm talking about. It's the switch you can use to transform from being attracted to the opposite sex to being attracted to the same sex at a moment's notice. Go ahead and flick the switch to the "gay" position for a little while. Don't worry, you can switch it back if it becomes too uncomfortable for you. Having trouble? It should be pretty easy to do since it's a choice and all. Hell, I just tried and I'm still 100 percent attracted to women.
If the people who believe that being gay is a "choice" had any clue about how silly they sound, they would probably stop talking. But as many of us know, they probably won't.
7. People who start a conversation with, "The Bible says...." The Bible says a lot of things and there is not one person reading my words right now who adheres to everything in it. I know I'll never reach "Hardcore Bible Guy/Girl," so I'm not going to bother arguing with them. However, pro football headlines are littered with guys who beat the crap out of their girlfriends/wives, drive drunk or engage in gun violence -- and they are wildly cheered for on Sunday afternoons, but when a man shares that he's gay, the same people lose their minds and start spitting out Bible verses to condemn him? How does that make any sense? For the life of me I will never understand that logic, and quite honestly, I'm very thankful for that.
I'm far from the most religious guy out there, but the God I know loves and accepts everyone without qualifications or conditions. I just wish everyone else felt the same way.
8. People who say, "I don't want to know what goes on in his bedroom." Come on. Does the man have a live feed into his bedroom that I'm not aware of? Another newsflash: unless you're a pervert, nobody gives a damn about what goes on in anyone's bedroom besides their own. This is not a diary of a man's sexual exploits. It's a man stating to the world, "This is who I am and I'm not going to hide it anymore."
9. People who say, "I don't want my kids thinking that being gay is OK." That's your business, but I have some really bad news for you: Gay is here to stay. It's not going anywhere. You can't put your head in the sand like a damn ostrich and hope that will make everything "better." You may not know it, but everyone reading this has at least one gay friend, family member, neighbor or coworker. None of us will leave the house without encountering a gay person during any given week, and that's a fact.
I have even more bad news for you: People like Mr. Sam will make it easier for gays to be more open about their sexuality. No more hiding and no more pretending to be something that they're not. More people will treat it like badges of honor and it will be completely infused into the mainstream of society.
And here's the worst part: No matter how hard you try, your kids can't escape it. There will be gay kids at their schools, gay kids on their sports teams, gay teachers in their classrooms, gay people in their communities and gay people on television and in movies. So you can either choose to teach your kids to be tolerant and "pro-love," or you can have them wonder why Mommy and Daddy are insisting that two people who are happily in love are "evil and should be condemned." Hopefully you'll choose wisely.
I had to unleash this rant because I'm a dad. I'm a dad who is far from perfect, but one who will always teach his girls to be loving and tolerant in the hope that they'll grow up in a more loving and tolerant world. When I think about the racist nonsense my parents endured when they were younger, I'm like, "Wow, I can't believe there was a time when blacks and whites couldn't use the same water fountains or bathrooms. I'm glad we're past that now." When my daughters are my age, I hope they can have the same reactions by saying, "Wow, I can't believe there was a time when people lost their minds over a gay football player. I'm glad we're past that now."
With all of the craziness going on in our world, it's hard to wrap my head around how some people in 2014 are upset about who someone chooses to love. Really? I mean, really?? How does their love impact any of us negatively? How does their love make the world a worse place for us or our children? Why are grown-ass men and women having toddler-like tantrums over what two consenting adults choose to do? It's complete insanity.
Mr. Sam is going to receive his share of hate. Hell, I'm sure I'm going to receive my share of hate for standing up for him and the gay community, but I don't care. We are all God's children and I appreciate him taking a courageous stand. Maybe one day this won't be viewed as courageous, but we're not there yet. Until we get there, I'm going to root like hell for this young man to succeed in the NFL, because he's already an All-Pro in the game of life.