Let me preface this by saying that I could not be happier for Michael Sam.
In case SportsCenter or Bleacher Report or wherever hasn’t already bashed it into your skull, Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, recently came out as openly gay and could become the first openly gay player to play in the NFL this coming fall. This is fantastic. I think that this is awesome and a tremendous step in the right direction.
But what gets me really upset is why the media is making such a big deal out of this situation. Scratch that. It gets me more than upset. It actually pisses me off.
We’ve been waiting this situation for a long time, but we didn’t know when it would happen or who the person would be. But here we are. And I should have expected this response, but I gave too much of the benefit of the doubt to the media. And I’m pissed both at myself for trusting the media to take the right course of action and the media itself for its actions.
Why are we running around and going crazy and making a big deal out of something that doesn’t need to be sensationalized?
Why have we built a society in which the act of an athlete coming out has become such a gigantic deal? As soon as this news “broke,” people started to speculate how Sam would be accepted in NFL locker rooms and how he would be treated on the practice field and in games. People even went so far as to predict how his draft stock would be affected.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Why is the media doing this? They’re only making the problem worse.
I would put a lot of money on the fact that over 90% of Sam’s prospective teammates would be 100%, totally fine with his sexual orientation. If the media didn’t make a big deal out of it, the other <10% of his teammates would either minimize conversation and contact with him, and that would be the end of it.
But now, Sam’s story is in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS on all major sports websites for the entire world to see. It’s like the media is pointing at Sam, saying, “Hey look at him! He’s gay! He’s different from everyone else! Let’s treat him like he’s different!” And the media portrays itself as a pro-gay and what they are doing is not necessarily homophobic, but it will make Sam’s adjustment into the NFL much, much more difficult. The media is actually more of an obstacle to Sam than the culture of the NFL locker room is.
Athletes are people. They’re not cold, heartless, homophobic creatures. The very large majority of NFL players are in their twenties or early-thirties and have grown up in a society that has seen a shift in attitude towards gay rights–the majority of the NFL is either pro-gay or wouldn’t treat a teammate differently if he was gay. Probably 10% of the NFL locker room has a belief that is shifting towards the minority these days, and those players are fully entitled to their opinion. But it crosses a line when these players antagonize or bully a gay player because he’s gay. And while a subtle, pre-existing line already has been drawn between gay and straight players (there will always be a line drawn between people of different parties), that line can be overcome. By sensationalizing this situation, the media is only darkening and making the line bigger. By making this a bigger deal than it should be, the media is making things worse. The media is reinforcing and enlarging the hurdles that a gay player would have to get over.
Obviously, this is an important moment in sports and NFL history, but if we didn’t make this a monumental story, maybe those 10% would feel odd about thinking of gay players differently. But by giving gay players completely different treatment in the media, we’re only affirming the belief of the 10% that gay players should be treated differently. Maybe if we treated gay athletes like every other athlete in the media, there would be no uncertainty about whether or not other players would accept him. Maybe, just maybe, if we didn’t isolate Sam, other players wouldn’t isolate him either.
Sam’s coming out took a tremendous amount of courage and bravery, and he has my eternal respect. I respect the hell out of him. And his announcement is a step in the right direction. And on the surface, the media’s handling of this relatively foreign situation may seem like a step in the right direction, but the reaction to this situation is actually taking us backwards.