Hello everybody and welcome back to Common Culture. So this past Saturday, the NFL draft took place. Not gonna lie, I don’t know much about it. Football is not really my jam, just like it isn’t for probably a decent chunk of gay men (not generalizing – you go, football loving gays! I’ve seen Glee! Kurt was the best kicker they’d ever seen!). But this weekend, football was the subject of quite a bit of talk amongst the gay community because Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL.
In the past few years, gay rights have become a much more heated issue, and so it may seem that this is not anything new. However, one of the places most grudgingly facing off against equal rights efforts are sports leagues. It’s unfortunately not surprising. In cave men terms, sports = men. Tough. Sweat. Muscles. Gay rights = not tough. Not manly. Yuck. This mindset didn’t apply to everyone but the headlines that began filling the newsstands couldn’t be ignored. Stories of athletes using homophobic slurs in locker rooms, avoiding teammates who they suspected of being gay, and athletes coming out after their careers were finished were everywhere. It just seemed to be a fact that athletes didn’t feel comfortable or safe with being gay and involved in sports.
And they had good reason to feel that way. Approaching the draft, Michael Sam, a defensemen for the University of Missouri, too felt the pressure of mixing sports and homosexuality. His chances of being drafted were lower simply because he was gay, and chances were high he would face the same scrutiny and judgment that others had faced. But he was willing to take the chance. Sam purposefully came out before the draft because he wanted to be upfront about who he was. An incredibly gifted player but also gay. An asset to any team but one that refused to hide or pretend to be someone else. Michael Sam wanted the team that picked him to want all of him. And, historically, the Saint Louis Rams did.
This is history in the making that we’re watching. Because on Saturday, we saw a gay man be consciously chosen by a sporting team to join their organization, no matter his sexual orientation. We saw the opposing sides of sports and gay rights bridge the gap and progress be made. We saw Michael Sam cry tears of joy as he received the phone call that he’d been chosen. We saw him kiss his boyfriend and no one jeered or called them names. We saw history moving in the right direction.
I’m so glad to be alive at this time. A time where, even though it has been slow going, the organizations that had the hardest time accepting love, no matter what it looked like, are making progress. We are seeing people achieve their dreams and be supported and loved, whatever their situations. We are seeing through race, through gender, through religion, through sexual orientation. We are in a time where people try to put themselves in the positions of others, try to be open-minded, try to love in spite of and because of our differences. Because those differences are what make us valuable and what make us able to help each other to grow into better people.
So thank you for Michael Sam. Thank you for being someone bringing sports and gay rights together. Because maybe (and hopefully) one football-loving gay-hating guy in Saint Louis will see you on his team and root for you to bring the team glory and will realize that the team you play for has nothing to do with how you should be treated as a person. Hopefully he buys your jersey and wishes you happiness. Hopefully that spreads. Because we are in a time of change, and you are helping to bring it.