(Cory is on vacation in the south of France this weekend, so I will be filling in for him. Ok, maybe he’s not in the south of France, but he is without a computer. Looks like you’re stuck with me either way!)
Simply mentioning Michael Sam’s name right now is enough to spark an emotional debate among football fans (and non-fans alike). Last week at the 2014 NFL Draft, he became the first openly gay football player to be drafted by a professional football team. Some people are lauding his courage, some people are disgusted by the move, and then there are others who are asking, “So what?”
Who cares if he’s gay? Isn’t this supposed to be about football? He was drafted just seven spots higher than No. 256, Mr. Irrelevant, so why all the coverage? And can I please watch 10 minutes of ESPN without hearing about Michael Sam or seeing yet another replay of “the kiss”?
To be fair, these people have a valid point; however, it’s rather interesting that this group of fans come from both sides of the “gay rights” aisle. Those who don’t have any qualms about sports players being gay couldn’t care less about the issue, yet those who protest the idea don’t want to see any coverage of it, period. Just make it go away and get back to football.
Now, I realize that this is not really a story specific to the Green Bay Packers, so I hope you will forgive me on that front. Nevertheless, this story is fairly historic and does have ramifications for the rest of the league. And that’s why it matters.
Sports have always carried an air of ultra-masculinity. Real men are tough. Real men are strong. Real men can take a beating and get back up. Real men sweat. Real men like women.
Real men aren’t gay.
Truly, this is why the hardest thing for a gay male athlete to do is to be honest with his teammates. It paints himself as feminine, as someone unworthy of playing a man’s sport. He opens himself up to criticism, taunting, and exclusion. And not just by his teammates, but also his coaches. Will they give him the same opportunities and instructional attention as the others?
So most gay athletes hide who they are, and in doing so live out their days in a string of lies or half-truths. They play along with the conversations about women and sexual conquests, making up stories to fit in. When asked about their personal lives, they answer in vague terms or simply lie their way through the answers. They wear a façade to avoid the torment of their teammates, coaches, and fans.
What most people don’t understand is that this life of lies is the true pain. It’s the constant awareness of not fitting in, of not being accepted, of being different. The fear of being found out follows them around like a shadow, and it shuts other people off to who they really are.
The next time you go to work, pay attention to how often you and your coworkers discuss your family life. How’s the wife? What are you and the kids doing this weekend? Is your family coming to the company cookout next month? These conversations seem insignificant and normal to most people; unfortunately, they are the harbingers of lies and shame for those who feel they have to hide their homosexuality.
Gay athletes don’t want to throw their sex lives in front of everyone. Their bedroom is their business, and like you, they want to keep it that way. They just don’t want to have to continue the lies they’ve had to live. They just want to take part in those everyday social conversations as themselves and not be outcast for it. They don’t want to have to attend charity events alone when the rest of their teammates are bringing their wives with them.
Michael Sam matters, because he has shown the way for others like him to follow. He’s giving courage to those still in hiding and living the lie. And hopefully he’s also teaching acceptance among those who don’t understand that being gay has nothing to do with athleticism, hard work, or professionalism.
In the ideal world, this story wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – matter. But we are not at that ideal world yet, making this an important step in the journey. With any luck, as others proceed to follow in Michael Sam’s footsteps, their 15 minutes of fame will gradually decrease until they become a non-story.
Then they’ll be just another guy filling a spot on a football team.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I understand and respect the differences of opinion that are likely to follow in the comments section. I please ask that any arguments or disagreements be held in a civil manner and not resort to name-calling or other personal attacks. We all have the right to express our opinions, no matter what they are, but we should always do so respectfully.——————Follow @ChadToporski