Michael Sam, a ‘small’ step for a gay man, a giant leap for the NFL?

Michael SamIn an ideal world I wouldn’t even be talking about last year’s SEC’s co-defensive player of the year getting drafted by an NFL team. It would be a given.

It wasn’t for Michael Sam.

He had to wait until the 7th round, selected 249th overall. In the meantime, the last seven SEC’s co-defensive players of the year were all picked up in the 1st round.

Think about that! Unfortunately, we all know why this had happened …

I am so very proud of Michael taking the next natural step in his career by becoming a leading NFL sportsman (and a role model for LGBTI youth around the world), something he worked very hard for and is very well deserved.

However, the way he has been selected (eventually) clearly indicates this was a giant leap for the sport. There are no out players in the NFL. Regardless, in this day of age one would have hoped the NFL would draft on merit, not on sexuality.

Kudos to the St. Louis Rams for picking him up and I hope he will have a stellar career in the sport.

Admittedly, sports have always been an area fraught with cultural and societal complexities for gay men. The male sports world, especially the various football codes around the world, has always been saturated with hyper-masculinity. Meanwhile, gay men have always been considered, to the point of caricaturistic stereotyping, the opposite of male masculinity.

It seems few things confront society more than a masculine, manly gay man, because it shatters the ‘comfortable’ societal stereotype of the emasculated, ‘unthreatening’, limp-wristed homosexual male.

This may be news to many, but gender and sexuality are not two predetermined (male or female, straight or gay, masculine or feminine) boxes to be ticked and matched according to society’s stereotypical expectations.

Humans are more complicated than that, and both gender and sexuality sit on a fascinating continuum, giving extra colour and flavour to our human experience, which should be embraced and celebrated rather than maligned and oppressed. By oppressing true gender and sexual identity, and rabidly denying the natural existence of ‘alternative’ sexualities, we are denying and oppressing our very humanity.

Consequently, I’m particularly taken aback, though not entirely surprised, by some of the reactions to Michael Sam spontaneously kissing his boyfriend (live on TV, OMG!) upon finding out the great news. It was a normal, human reaction in the circumstances. I’m confident no one would have taken an issue with, or raised an eyebrow at, the kiss if he was kissing his girlfriend.

So, get over it!

That kiss was a huge moment in American sporting and global LGBTI history and I’m very proud to have witnessed it. I salute Michael and Vito for their bravery, considering America’s questionable attitudes towards its LGBTI community.

As foreigners we see America as a land of curious contradictions:

  • constant talk of individual freedoms and constitutional guarantees … except for LGBTI people;
  • constant talk of small government and demands of reduced government interference in citizens’ lives … except for LGBTI people; and
  • constant talk of the evils of religious extremism everywhere in the world, except when it comes to some of America’s very own extremist, evangelical Christians, who might as well be in the Taliban or hang out with Iran’s Ayatollahs, when you have a closer look at their position on social issues, including LGBTI people.

I just wish Michael was picked in the 1st round, as he should have been, so for a moment we could have believed that America is truly the society it likes to think it is.

Although I firmly believe that, despite the protest of agitators, there is hope for the world, including America, to evolve to be a better place for all, including LGBTI, and change is already in the air:

(Dale Hansen, Unplugged, WFAA, ABC, Dallas, Texas, 10 February 2014)

… and after the draft:

(Dale Hansen, Unplugged, WFAA, ABC, Dallas, Texas, 11 May 2014)

Update: 30 August 2014

It was reported on 30 August 2014 that the first openly gay NFL player ever drafted has been cut. Sam farewelled his team the classiest possible way:

The reactions were swift and wide-ranging, many of them less than classy, and they speak for themselves:

Update: 3 September 2014

It was reported today that Michael Sam joined the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys. I wish Sam all the best!

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for the usual suspects to take issue with the Dallas Cowboys over signing him.

Update: 21 October 2014

It was announced today that the Dallas Cowboys cut Michael Sam from their practice squad. It’s unclear now what future he may have in professional football.

Sadly, what appeared to be a giant leap just a couple of months ago had turned into a giant fiasco, and one can’t help the feeling that at the root of his inability to find a team lies his homosexuality.

Welcome to the real world!

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