So let’s say you heard the news about Michael Sam, probable future NFL player, publicly discussing his homosexuality. And let’s say you’re down with this development, but some people – at work, on Facebook, or at family dinner with Uncle Bob – are talking about it in a way that doesn’t seem right. And let’s say you can’t figure out how to respond, maybe because you can’t take on hate without raging out, or maybe because you just haven’t figured how to put your thoughts in to words.
Catharsis is here to help.
Here are some thoughts on how to respond to what your Uncle Bob is saying about Michael Sam and gay players in the NFL. Let us know in the comments what we missed!
Uncle Bob: Football is “a man’s man game” and it always will be.
You: Yeah, Bob! You gotta be strong and tough to play in the NFL. That’s for sure.
But let’s not make the mistake of linking someone’s sexuality with toughness. You can think of at least one hetero person you’d call ‘weak,’ right? On the flip side, Michael Sam is plenty strong. He plays a physically demanding position, and plays it well – the best defensive player in the best conference in college football this past year. Not bad, eh?
And also…can we be frank? If you think that Michael Sam’s affection for men makes him less equipped for the game, then you also must believe that what makes someone like Tom Brady a star is that he has sex with women. And let’s be honest. When the Patriots get the ball down four late in the game, no one in the huddle is saying “Let’s do this, Tom! I believe in you! Not because of the three Super Bowl rings and the MVP Award – but because you date super models!! Gisele on Three!!”
Players succeed because of how they play, not because of who they love.
Uncle Bob: OK, but off the field – this is going to upset the locker room dynamic.
Hmm…that’s an interesting thought. It does seem hard to predict exactly what will happen when Michael Sam joins an NFL team. I wish we had some way to test how a locker room is affected when a gay player named Michael Sam is in it.
Oh wait, we do!
Michael’s Missouri Tiger football team just finished a 12-2 season where it surpassed all reasonable expectations and end up ranked #5 in the nation. Multiple coaches and players told the press that Michael and his sexuality had no negative impact on their locker room. So maybe that dynamic won’t be too disrupted after all?
But I do understand your concern about striving to achieve a healthy workplace dynamic. Good call. But wouldn’t you agree that a positive dynamic is one where all people feel welcome? And where people are valued based on performance, not identity? And if, let’s say, Michael enters a locker room that doesn’t have this kind of a dynamic, you know – the healthy, welcoming one I’m sure you want…isn’t it a GOOD thing to see it disrupted?
Uncle Bob: But what if it creates a distraction for the rest of the players?
Alright, Bob! I gotta call you out for a quick reality check on this one.
NFL players memorize 200 page playbooks. They make game and life-altering decisions as 300-pound men armed in combat gear chase them while eighty thousand people scream. They deal with a constant barrage of questions from reporters about everything from on-field performance to contract negotiations to their social lives to what they think of the plight of strippers.
In that kind of an environment, is the fact that one of their teammates might share romantic love or sex with another man in his free time really going to distract them? Come on, now! If Colin Kaepernick threw a crucial interception that cost your 49ers the game, and then, in the postgame presser, explained that he would have been able to focus if only he hadn’t heard that Michael Sam went on a really fun second date with a cute banker named Chet, you’d laugh in his face, right?
And if you’re really that against anything that could possibly distract an NFL player from his duty to focus his entire being on game-day performance, I’m sure you’ll support my plan to lock NFL players at the team facility 365 days a year with no radio, books, television or visitation rights from family and friends so they can completely commit to football.
What? You don’t like that? Why not? Oh, because NFL players are entitled to a life outside the locker room? You’re totally right. And so is Michael Sam!
Uncle Bob: But what if the straight players get uncomfortable when gay guys shower with them? I mean…I wouldn’t want a gay guy checking me out!
You know what? You’re a pretty attractive sort. Aunt Bess don’t want no scrubs. I’m sure, at some point in your life, a gay man has already checked you out. And yet, as Frank Bruni pointed out, somehow, the world has kept turning.
But really. What are we talking about here? Are you asking “what would happen if a gay man sexually harasses another man in the showers?” Well. Then it would be dealt with like any other crime – by being appropriately punished. But typically in America, we don’t pre-emptively punish someone based on crimes they haven’t yet committed. Unless you’re in to racial profiling. Which…oh man…you’re not, are you Bob?
And here’s another thing – research shows that most men who sexually assault and harass other men identify as straight, not gay. And crimes of sexual aggression are about someone who holds power taking advantage of someone who doesn’t, not somebody getting a glimpse of someone’s junk in the shower and being impressed.
But maybe you weren’t talking about an actual crime, but you’re just worried about Michael Sam’s thoughts…in which case. Wait. Are we policing thoughts now? If someone at your office thinks something that makes you uncomfortable, do you get to send them home? If I tell you I love Beyonce and you flinch, leading me to suspect you preferred her Destiny’s Child days, do I get to have you kicked off the job? This ain’t Orwell, dude! Someone else’s thoughts are none of your business.
Uncle Bob: Look. Bottom line – personally, I’m fine with it, but the NFL just “isn’t ready” for a gay player.
OK. I love you, Bob – but pay attention, because this one’s important.
What do you mean by “ready?” By “ready,” do you mean the point at which every single person in the NFL will accept Michael Sam as an equal? Because if that’s what “ready” means, I’m afraid we’re waiting on a moment that will never come.
And by that standard, the league still “isn’t ready” for black players. The league “isn’t ready” for punters. The league “isn’t ready” for redheads, or atheists, or people from Texas, or any other category of person that someone in the league doesn’t care for.
But as good people, Bob, I gotta say…we gotta stick to our guns on this one. Good people don’t let those with oppressive attitudes dictate the timeline for justice. I mean, this just in: Nazis “not ready” for Jews to be seen as equals. KKK “not ready” for blacks to enter the work force. You get what I’m saying, Bob? Why do we care?
Baseball wasn’t “ready” for Jackie Robinson to play in the majors. America wasn’t “ready” for Ida Wells to vote for President. The Supreme Court wasn’t “ready” for Sandra Day O’Connor to sit on the bench. But thank goodness, Jackie, Ida, Sandra and those who supported them couldn’t have cared less. And you like equality, right? So aren’t you glad that Michael Sam doesn’t either?
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