SIn the 11th grade, I was outed as a Homosexican by a wicked lesbian with a brawny, murderous jawline. She was the nefarious and lesbianly athletic bastion of projectile teenage misery, and I, the unpopular, inconsequential bystander of her hatred for my then best friends.
My two tearful friends staged an intervention. I was interrogated about these circulating rumors and harangued over my failure to lay my cards on the table beforehand. They were blindsided! How could I not trust them?! “How are we supposed to feel?” cried they. Over the hour that followed, I went from devious deviant to brother to He Who Can Now Help Us Pick Out Clothes. Because, gay. ‘Twas the best of times.
This past week, preceding the latest episode of Who Wants To Put Their Simpleminded Bias on Display?: Sports Edition, all-American defensive lineman Michael Sam came out publicly. Thanks to his announcement, we’re all currently waiting for the sky to part like groupie legs and for the inevitable swarm of locusts to overtake all that is good and proper.
Unlike me, Sam was able to beat gossipmongers and prodigious life-ruiners with aggressive jaws to the punch and present himself on his own terms.
Unlike me, he gets to watch peers debate his worth in terms of their individual emotional reaction to the existence of athletes who like people with the same kind of genitalia as themselves.
Like me, he gets to watch the world juxtapose his personal merits with his sexuality through the lens of their polite bigotry . The so-called gracious will say things like, “I have no problem with his lifestyle,” now overcome with self-satisfaction after having validated the existence of an invalid being, graciously. All of this matters because, if drafted, Sam will be the first openly gay NFL player.
Here is how I see things.
Already, predictably, NFL players, coaches, and others who profit from football have had mics extended in their direction by dutiful reporters inquiring, hypothetically, how they would feel about a gay teammate.
Would this affect you in the locker room? What if he LOOKS at you (knowing those same eyes look at naked men's bodies)? Would you panic (if perhaps you were caught in an elevator with this gay motherfucker)?
Could you shake his hand just the same (knowing the gay things he does with that hand)? Would you respect him (although he's hell-bound)?
Would he disrupt the camaraderie (amongst the other, morally pristine teammates)? Wouldn't you be afraid that he'd think about having gay sex with you (because, gay)?
All of that is expected at this point. Watching waywards wax unprofound about those with the audacity to be both mentally stable and sexually self-assured is all too common. This is the Age of The Free Speech-Protected Bigotry Spigot. Each InstaPundit is convinced his opinion is necessary and (actual and) factual.
Give a man a platform, and he’ll give you a reason to support election-based full-grown adult abortions. I believe that’s how the saying goes.
MY question is: Would it be acceptable to question these professionals, hypothetically, if working with rapists, murderers, child neglecters, dropouts, alcoholics, abusers, gambling and booger sugar addicts, heartbreakers, pedophiles, men with underbites, convicts, liars, men unable to keep their dicks in their pants and men who collect children like sneakers affects their ability to perform the job which they are handsomely paid to do? Because there are tons of those in the NFL and NBA. They are easily identifiable, actual proven (and occasionally convicted) men of poor character that can be discussed with certainty rather than hypotheticals .
If Pam Oliver pulled a young man aside and asked, "JaQuavion McBurgerKing Braxton has six kids by nine women. If he is traded to your team, would that dampen the morale among the guys?" or "Does bringing your wife and kids around your teammate that beats the entire fuck out of his significant others also make you nervous?" or "What if people associate you with a tax-evading dirtbag? What will your pastor say!?" would those also be acceptable questions?
All of that is okay and "part of the lifestyle," yet a man brave enough to live openly is unacceptable and a threat to team morale? Gotcha.
We spend too much time babysitting the emotions, preferences, and fancies of proud bigots. Society pacifies those who stand firmly in their prejudice far too often. We pad our questions and try dearly not to offend them. We grant them attention and audience, validating their views.In general, we defer too frequently to the whims and dangerously misinformed opinions of men who don't seem to accept reality, like the fact that there have always been gay people in sports. Just like in the real world. Oh, you mean athletes behave (and fuck up and fall at varying points on the spectrum of sexuality) just like us mortals? You mean they are people, too? Clearly.
We tap dance around obvious deficiencies of reason in order to keep the peace. Ex-coach and present NFL analyst for ESPN Herm Edwards, as graceful as a three-legged water buffalo, opined that an openly gay player in the locker room is a distraction. He feels that it would threaten the bond and “sense of togetherness” in that locker room. With the logic-free conviction of a bescandled politician, he explained that Sam’s “personal issues” are unnecessary baggage for the team. Oh, you mean unlike a murder charge? Completely unlike other athletic rites of passage such as rape cases and rampant domestic abuse? Or maybe like the metric fucktonne of NFL player arrests over the last few years?
Those things are normal and public and affect the team's roster and image as well as the NFL as a brand, yet are ultimately explainable. But he's a good kid, they'll say. But a gay dude at the locker next to yours? That is where you draw the line. Never mind that those questioned on this hypothetical matter so far apparently regard the players as little more than juvenile and unable to field "tough" questions.
"Can the players handle the media attention they are going to get, when they get the question asked, 'are you okay with a gay teammate?'" –Herm Edwards, Voice of Reason
Can they handle.
Can they handle.
Can they (making millions per year) handle the media attention they are going to get, when they get the question asked, 'are you okay with a gay teammate (when there are highly paid media trainer motherfuckers on standby for situations just like this)?"'
Because of course, it's about them, and their struggle. The poor things.
As the football field is like any other environment with humans in it, there have obviously been gay players embraced and protected by their squad. It remains to be seen if an openly gay teammate will render these upstanding ball handlers unable to do their jobs. Until Sam is drafted, though, we'll surely see no shortage of conjectures about how his private life will affect the delicate balance of machismo or vanquish the manhood of all who encounter him.
It is 2014. We can allow a post-menopausal performance artist to masquerade as a 17-year-old named Lorde without the sky falling. So, if teams of formerly left behind children can be plucked from poverty and rescued from the land of Life Failure to become household names while masterfully double-dutching in and out of court, brazenly Harlem Shaking beyond the Line of Basic Human Decency, surely a Defensive Lineman of the Year who is at least forthcoming about his off-the-field activities won't stop the champagne, bankruptcies and paternity suits from flowing.
Life would be far less harrowing if we each spent less time preoccupied with the private proclivities of the next human and devoted more energy to micromanaging our own Rolodexes of tragic flaws. In the case of those slangin’ pigskin in the Land of Milk and Alimony, the clear priority should be staying in peak mental and physical shape and out of jail.
Fortunately for me, my life became far less harrowing once I walked across the stage to collect my high school diploma and out of that insular den of communal insecurity. With time, I have been able to quiet, ignore, and shut down the whispers and attempts at shaming based on sexuality. Ultimately, once Mom and Dad got The Talk and didn’t hack me into tiny pieces, little else has mattered. Everything else became irrelevant. Where whom I’m licking and sticking is concerned, I have since outgrown concern for the views of those I’m not related to or having relations with.
As I drift toward the shores of Thirtyland, I have been aided by a confidence that was nowhere to be found in my dealings with Nefarious Death Jaw way back when. As is already happening with Michael Sam, there was occasionally shock and discomfort regarding my sexuality. Some people just refuse to let their inner logical non-zealot shine and that’s their business. However, giving people the options of dealing with it or dealing with it has done wonders for my sanity. Judging by how he’s handling this hoopla, it appears Michael Sam already got that memo. All that’s left is for the rest of you to get your minds right.
Alex Hardy is a writer and cultural critic from Virginia, now living and working in Panama. He is a regular contributor at ebony.com and is currently working on a a memoir. He regularly shares his work on the site, thecoloredboy.com and tweets @chrisalexander_.
[Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Getty]