Michael Sam, According To A Recovered Homophobe

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    Updated: February 11, 2014
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    When Michael Sam announced that he was gay, the question I heard asked the most by the sports media was, “is this good for football?” 

    On the surface, it’s a relatively innocuous question, one that represents the communal atmosphere innate in football. But on a personal level, it’s offensive: is this person good for our sport?

    We live in 2014, and a good amount of the athletes in the NFL aren’t white. Sixty years ago, the discussion of integrating sports was just being asked. Even 44 years ago, when the University of Southern California travelled to Birmingham, Alabama, to play an all-white football team, coached by Bear Bryant.

    Led by fullback Sam Cunningham, who rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns, the Trojans doubled-up the Crimson Tide 42-21, paving the way for the integration of football teams in the SEC. 

    Consider for a second the absurdity of having to announce to someone who you are. It’s a deeply personal moment in a person’s life, met with mixed emotions by all parties involved. When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson,

    there was no hiding who Jackie was: he was an uber-athletic man who was unmistakably black. Michael Sam is an uber-athletic black man, who is not stereotypically gay. 

    As an athlete, Sam is distinctly a ‘tweener. For many, this designation has acted as a proverbial kiss of death, due in large part to the stagnant nature of thought in the NFL today (Don’t believe me?

    The most innovative scheme of the past five years, the “Wildcat,” was just a really old formation that had gone virtually extinct.)  Yes, he’s 6’2 255lbs. He was also the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. DeMarcus Ware, Joey Porter, Terrell Suggs, Shaun Phillips, and Elvis Dumervil are all examples of defensive end/linebacker types that used their fall in the draft-due to the ‘tweener label-to fight their respective ways into the top-75 sack-masters in NFL history. What they didn’t have to deal with, to our knowledge, is being gay. 

    I am not a gay man; I’m just not attracted to men enough to be one. Growing up in a largely immigrant community in Van Nuys, California, I never experienced the stereotypical free love, do-what-you-do, if-that’s-what-you-do (as long as what you do ain’t gang-bangin’) atmosphere so many associate with California in general. I was one of four or five white kids in a class of 35.

    Every other student had parents from the Philippines, Mexico, Guatemala, or El Salvador. I’m not sure when the gay jokes started, but looking back, now, it was a very homophobic atmosphere. The jokes weren’t so much jokes as they were vicious accusations of some sort of incurable, recurring wrongness. I remember being very afraid that I was, gasp, gay. 

    High school was more of the same, and when I moved away to attend a nondescript Catholic university in Chicago, adjusting to life so close to Boy’s Town was interesting.

    I would lash out at other students in the major-mandated intercultural communications class for having grown up in Suburban Chicago “hellhole’s,” for having gone to school with a 95% Caucasian graduating class, and rolling my eyes at the discussion of Harvey Milk. I was awful.

    I said some terrible things; thankfully not publicly. I think the environment adjusted me as a person more than anything. Experiencing a place where you were accepted for who you were-so long as you didn’t drink Budweiser products-changed who I was…at least as a bigot (I still don’t like Chicago sports teams).

    As a sophomore at said nondescript Catholic university in Chicago, I had a roommate who was out to his immediate friends and family, but not his two roommates: my best friend and myself. One night he drunkenly-and awkwardly-announced to us that he was, in fact, gay.

    I remember the moment as a nonevent; we knew he was gay-the near-constant presence of boxed-wine in the fridge and Lady Gaga on a loop made this evident. I think I responded by asking, “so?” Because that is how I felt about this situation.

    We didn’t care if he was gay or straight; we cared about if he did the dishes and bought beer for us (he was 21, I wasn’t). 

    Years removed from this occasion, I think this was a suitable response to the situation. It didn’t change the relationship that we had, as roommates, and it allowed him to be who he was, comfortably.

    As a gay man subject to ostracism in some circles, he didn’t need to worry about being himself in his own residence. My friend worked up a lot of courage to finally tell us. To a degree, Michael Sam was forced to out himself to the public.

    A reporter at the Senior Bowl approached him about doing a story announcing his homosexuality. Sam declined, but he and his agent knew that they would have to make an announcement soon, in order to control the story. 

    I think that my xenophobic past is representative of many other’s, a sort of redemption story-not that I was presented with a series of problems and forced to overcome-but I did overcome the totally unjustified hatred that I had grown up with. 

    As a society, we can only judge our progress by the hurdles we surpass. Women’s suffrage, civil rights, and the continuous fight to get gay marriage legalized in all states are examples of sad, uninformed people changing their disrespectful ways and progressing socially.

    I hope that Michael Sam succeeds as a football player, because he’s a good one. There will never be a question of his integrity or his courage, and he will only be a distraction to the football team that drafts him if he, his team, and we as a society of sports fans let it. 

    To conclude, I ask: why are we concerned with a man’s attraction to other men, when there is a tiger killing people by the dozens in India, car bomb schools in Iraq, and drunk idiots driving the wrong way on highways? 

    What’s important is how he performs when he finally gets his chance on Sunday afternoons. Good luck Michael Sam, I wish you all the best.

    Because Sam was a Parks and Recreation major at Missouri, here are a few outtakes from the wonderful NBC sitcom:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6CbsLQ1LyU&list=PL4GLo3-qobaBuzxLc8Q6l4-puEmERUtmp&index=26

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    3 Comments

    1. Leron

      March 2, 2014 at 5:38 PM

      I really enjoyed your story. The way you intertwined your own personal experience is what made it personal and thought provoking. I cant wait to read your next story.

    2. Ben

      February 12, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      Fantastic piece, John.

      • Sandra D

        February 20, 2014 at 11:25 PM

        Well said, Sir.

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