NOTE: I would like to first begin by saying that I believe the clip of Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend after being drafted into the NFL runs too long. I believe the media’s extended take and subsequent, unedited airing created an artificial feeling that some have construed as a “gay agenda” publicity stunt.
Michael Sam was drafted into the NFL by the St. Louis Rams. By current media standards, this news is ancient history, but the discussion Michael Sam and his boyfriend created upon receiving “the call” is still being heavily discussed across all forms of media. Did he cry too much, smile too little or not display enough enthusiasm? Nope. He shared a kiss with his boyfriend, oops.
In early February, I wrote about the world Michael Sam would have to face – I said he’d pay a price for “coming out” and positioning himself to become the NFL’s first openly gay athlete. I was right – as I predicted, Sam has an uphill battle ahead of him. He has his detractors, and he always will, no matter how good he is on the field. They’ll make hateful and hurtful comments about his sexual orientation first – and those comments will disregard Sam’s personhood entirely. Blind hatred will be unfounded – but it will become part of the asterisk by Michael Sam’s name.
This week alone, Sam has come under fire for “the kiss.” Some have it found “disturbing,” others have said “It’s [homosexuality] being pushed in faces.” Michael Sam’s celebratory moment garnered anti-gay sentiments on social media from various people, including other NFL players, who’ve subsequently been fined and ordered to sensitivity training. Various religious followers, politicians and ordinary conservatives think their First Amendment rights are in jeopardy, under attack by the “gay agenda” – one even mocks “Am I allowed to comment on issues that pertain to homosexuality if I don’t echo the views of our masters?” – and others, in a defeatist fit, walk off set declaring “I’m done.”
Michael Sam has been the subject of as much negativity as praise this week – described using various adjectives first, he’s been mocked, and his supporters have been labeled hypocrites. Really, some of the things said about Michael Sam could be categorized in our digital era as “cyber bullying.” Then again, cyber bullying has juvenile implications, right? Right. Adults have thrown around derogatory terms (ex. faggot) and have used their children as shields (“my children shouldn’t have to watch”) as they rush to cower behind the First Amendment. Some (a former soldier) have gone as far as to say (paraphrasing) “I defended this country, I can say what I want – and you’re free to think I’m wrong because I served to give you that right.”
Flawed logic, like that of the former soldier’s (after all, he fought to defend some rights, not all?), is the basis for much of the Sam critique. People claim it’s their right to publicly denounce and dehumanize Michael Sam. It’s their right to condemn his lifestyle and to make comments that could damage his soul, or have an emotional impact on those close to him (his partner or mother). Then, when Sam supporters come to his defense, cries of “hypocrisy” sound like alarms. When fines are levied, suspensions are dealt and sensitivity is suggested/required, then it becomes “What has happened to America? Where is my freedom?”
What has happened to America, a place founded on freedom? This is a place where blacks were persecuted and enslaved for the color of their skin, a place where women once didn’t have a voice – and were thought of as property. Now, it’s a place where people like Michael Sam aren’t welcome? It’s a place where people vehemently defend their “rights” while seeking to strip people of or to keep others from their own? Case and point, some conservatives cry “hypocrisy” when their hatred is censored, they clutch their constitution in one hand, their Bible in the other, and claim they’re under attack – yet, where’s that defense of freedom for the woman who can’t marry her lifelong partner, for the loving men who are restricted from co-parenting an adopted child, or for the football player who kisses his boyfriend? Why aren’t they equally as free?
It’s a pot and kettle story that rears its ugly head time and time again. “My rights – and religion – are under attack because I don’t support the ‘gay agenda’.” People who say things like this, are also people that vote against marriage equality, that don’t support homosexual co-parenting, yet they’re against abortion, contraceptives, and sex education. They don’t want the “gay agenda” in their face, yet they pull various quotes from The Bible out of context, apply contemporary thought, and push those beliefs into the faces of others. These people promote messages of why alternative lifestyles are wrong – why LGBT people are damned to (and will burn in) hell – why they’re an abomination. All the while, their message is this: LGBT people are less than us – they don’t deserve the same rights.
This hatred is thought to be automatically free, but again, here’s another instance flawed logic. Not all speech is free. Hate Speech is not protected speech. Defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or other traits” that leads to imminent hate violence is criminal. Hate speech prosecution is a hard sell, and so it’s loosely enforced, but this simply means there’s a fine line between protected and not. There could come a perfect storm – a series or public record of hateful comments, a tragedy born of hate, an ambitious prosecutor with just enough evidence (tweets maybe?), and a sympathetic jury – and the First Amendment no longer offers protection, because what’s materialized is now a hate crime.
What is said teeters atop a slippery slope just waiting for the fall. Not to mention, what is stated publicly may be in direct conflict with a company or organization’s belief or mission – and could result in disciplinary action (ex. fines, sensitivity training). Then again, once disciplinary action happens, cries of “hypocrisy” and “freedom of speech” will resume and could accompany a lawsuit.
Is that world we live in? Is that America? Perhaps we’d all do well to remember the Thumperian Principle, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
When cameras cut to Michael Sam during the draft, and saw him standing there with his boyfriend, couldn’t any person with a brain deduce that a kiss between the two was a possibility? For those that “don’t want their children seeing that,” couldn’t you change the channel? Or was it the idea of having an explanatory conversation with your child that was frightening? For those of you that were “disturbed,” are you equally as disturbed by any number of heterosexual kisses you may have seen during the previous drafts or Super Bowl victories? For those who were “offended,” how do you think Michael Sam feels when you qualify and categorize him as “the gay football player” or refer to him using derogatory terms like “faggot?”
So some are offended, and their rights are under attack. Well, what about Michael Sam and his rights? To those of you who’ve made hateful remarks about Michael Sam (or even other member of the LGBT community) – to those of you who speak out in protest of “the gay agenda,” I say this: Your messages of hatred, while you are entitled to them, are not acceptable. You’re learning that your archaic, hateful views and comments are increasingly becoming unwelcome. It’s not okay to categorize a person because of their sexual orientation, but most importantly, it’s entirely unacceptable to to dehumanize a person because of a minor difference. It is not okay. People are people first. None of the rest really matters, does it? As our President, Barack Obama, once said, “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or who you love…”
The times are changing for the better. The future is coming – and some of us are working to create a more accepting, unified future for generations to come. There will be a day when a man kisses a man without people looking on with disdain, when homosexual co-parenting is a norm, and when all people are free to be who they were born to be and can love whoever they love. That future is a picture of a world where people are equal. As Obama said, “I believe we can seize that future.”
It’s time to let the future rise and to leave the archaic, unfounded views where they belong – in the past.