I admit, I don't know much about sports. I played basketball in fifth grade, and like every kid in the late 80s and early 90s, I was a fan of Michael Jordan. Those interests soon faded, and I haven't really cared much about field goals and foul balls since. Nevertheless, over the past few weeks, I have been reading about sports. It has nothing to do with my loyalty to a particular team and everything to do with the solidarity I feel when people like Jason Collins come out. Most recently, Michael Sam, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, announced he is gay, and the reactions are both positive and blatantly unsupportive.
Now you may think that this is already old news, but the conversation is buzzing in the underground. This morning, en route to my office, I overheard a man in his mid-fifties say, "Isn't he a homo?" Naturally, I assumed he was talking about me, so I looked up from my book and started to not-so-accidentally eavesdrop. Turns out, they were talking about Michael Sam.
"He should have kept that a secret. Nobody's gonna pick a homo." continued the man.
"He wasn't that good anyway!" agreed his friend.
The men caught me glancing their way. Normally, when you make eye contact in NYC, one person quickly looks away making sure to evade further contact, especially the kind that could lead to conversation. Not this time.
"I disagree!" I said.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said the man's friend. "When I saw you, I knew you were gay, and I realized we shouldn't have said that."
"How'd you know he was gay?" asked the first man.
"Because he has the hair and..." explained the friend.
"Wasn't Michael Sam one of the top players in the SEC?" I interrupted.
The friend pipes up, feeling relieved that I wasn't offended by his assumption, "He wasn't really that good, honestly."
Not being too sure of myself, I didn't list his credentials. Instead I argue that, if what these men were saying is true, it's a shame that the NFL would consider his orientation over his ability.
The men look at each other, shuffle their feet in embarrassment and shrug their shoulders apologetically. I insert some self-deprecation just to show them that I'm not an angry gay man, and I get it. We're cool! I even give them the benefit of the doubt by saying that I can understand why people have questions -- it's normal to be uncomfortable with differences. But, the more we normalize homosexuality, the more it's accepted. That's why I think it's important that Michael Sam comes out.
I was actually really starting to like these guys. But then the first man said, "You know -- you're right. He probably really likes the contact on the football field anyway. You know what I'm saying?"
At any rate, it's important to have these conversations. It's also important to support our fellow LGBT family members and to know what's going on in our community. Most importantly, however, it's important to think like Dale Hansen. He says it better than anyone in this video:
Hip, hip, hooray for Michael Sam!