I Shouldn’t Care About Michael Sam, But I Feel I Must

(only in the NFL is a 261lb-player considered ‘small’ for their position)

For those of who are unaware, or British, the NFL Draft – the annual event in which professional teams take it in turns to select college players to add to their rosters, like a sort of $50 million equivalent to picking teams for a game of 5-a-side football – has concluded, with Missouri Defensive End Michael Sam being selected in the seventh, and final, round. Sam has made headlines for the fact that he is openly gay, and is already the first openly gay player to be drafted, and will now work at being the first to actually play in the NFL, when the season starts in September.

There have been three basic responses to Sam’s coming out, and the subsequent media storm around him: the first is ‘unconditional love and acceptance’, a popular choice where Twitter users gush about how this strikes a blow for gay rights in America; the second is the relatively uncommon ‘homosexuality is a sin’ argument, where people that know nothing about the NFL start talking about the NFL, just because they get pissed off by an aspect of it and feel obliged to let us all know about it; the third, increasingly common, response is ‘I don’t care, can he play football?’, one that I would like to agree with.

Ultimately, in an ideal world, there would be no distinction between people based on sexuality – Sam would be an undersized Defensive End, not an undersized gay Defensive End – and so I’d support the third response because I’m so pro-equality that I don’t even consider equality to be a thing worth talking about; we are equals, so stop talking about it. It’s like if we were to constantly comment on the fact that there is breathable oxygen in the atmosphere; it is a fact of life, so there’s no point in discussing it.

However, I feel this response often comes across as more dismissive than it is intended to be; many people have compared Sam’s sexuality to the devout and highly publicised Christian faith of Quarterback Tim Tebow, arguing that the, often left-leaning, media has presented Tebow’s faith as an annoyance that he needs to shut up about, while simultaneously championing Sam’s sexuality – no less an inherent part of his identity – as a wonderful characteristic to be celebrated as evidence of just how bloody tolerant the US has become.

And this difference in the presentation of identities has conflated the three responses I mentioned into two: you’re either a rainbow flag-waving Sam-lover, or a cynical old bastard, whose rejection of such outward joy makes you as intolerant as the Ku Klux Klan, Adolf Hitler, and YouTube commenters all at once.

The problem is that our society is a polarised, opinionated one; the growth of democracy, from being the basis of most world powers today to a tool used to kick non-cute old people and dogs off Britain’s Got Talent, means that we are all used to opinions being thrown about like crappy disaster movies ever since 2012 was released. We also expect others to voice their opinions as strongly as we do, as the increasing sensationalisation of the media and the Internet – you have to put your YouTube titles in block capitals to attract any attention these days – means that humans have only one method of debate: shout the other person into submission.

And so whenever someone like me shows up, who genuinely supports Sam for his sexuality and praises his bravery for being so honest about it, but doesn’t tattoo a ‘Strong With Sam’ hashtag to his face, I’m suddenly grouped with those who have the opposite opinion; to have a less aggressively-presented opinion, or even no opinion on a subject, means you’re not one of ‘us’, you’re one of ‘them’. And, of course, this happens on the other side too, leaving an isolated mass of people that aren’t really bothered by events, or are just quiet when they are bothered by them, that is curiously larger than the groups at the two extremes from which they are rejected, but receives much less media coverage because their views aren’t as controversial, or even fun, to watch.

So bear that in mind if you hear about Sam’s sexuality again, and how it will inevitably be the ’cause’ of some locker room hostility a few years down the line, that not everyone wants to council him into losing his identity as an awful ‘ex-homosexual’, or wants to launch a rainbow-clad pitch invasion to give him a big hug in his first game; most of us aren’t too bothered by such developments, and whether that means we agree or disagree with them doesn’t really matter – we know our opinions, and we’re just choosing to keep them to ourselves.

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