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Michael Sam: The Gay-And-Proud-Of-It Football Player

Sarah Collins |
February 13, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. PST


Is the NFL just afraid of what they don't know? (@mattufford, Twitter)
Is the NFL just afraid of what they don't know? (@mattufford, Twitter)
The Super Bowl is perhaps the most quintessentially American event in existence. For the fourth time in five years, Super Bowl XLVIII set the record for the most watched television event in U.S. history, and what’s more American than watching football and television? For those not necessarily interested in the sport itself, the star-studded halftime shows, macho military aircraft and other patriotic paraphernalia keep people glued to the screen for hours.

So, that pretty much covers all of the American people, right? Well, almost everyone. 

A group of conservatives wreaked havoc over Coca-Cola’s supposedly controversial Super Bowl ad, which featured, among other diverse American demographics, a gay couple taking its daughter out roller-skating while sipping an ice-cold cola. (Seriously, people? There are so many issues and causes in this world, and you choose THIS prejudiced one to be passionate about?) 

SEE ALSO: Coca-Cola Commercial Backlash Shows Close-Mindedness

Only a couple of weeks later, fans are again debating over a breach in the “typical” football scene with regards to Michael Sam, a player en route who may soon become the first openly gay player in the National Football League. Many people, including myself, are thrilled with the idea of opening up the playing field to more diversity. Though, I believe it's not the never-actually-seen-more-than-five-minutes-of-a-Super-Bowl people like myself that are the issue; a sizeable group of die-hard football fans seem to be sparking the controversy.

The movement to give the LGBTQ community equal rights has been catching on throughout mediums and groups of people. Macklemore’s “Same Love,” controversial as it may have been to the gay community, was championed by many as a song about accepting others; the Human Rights Campaign encouraged thousands to change their Facebook profile pictures to equal signs symbolic for marriage equality; seventeen states have legalized gay marriage. So why hasn’t the football community yet caught the fever?

Ultimately, I believe it is because of what Macklemore confesses in his own hit: “America still fears what we don’t know.” Even the singer, while advocating for the movement, takes an ironic step back several times to remind us that he himself is not gay. American stereotypes and societal structures have always been rigid, from New York’s nineteenth century Upper East Side, as depicted in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, to more current works, such as Alan Ball’s film, American Beauty. People treat American football like a national religion, and Michael Sam, an openly gay man looking to play in the NFL, would surely shake the foundations of this particular undying status quo. Still, it will come with great hardship. Some NFL general managers stated that Michael Sam's sexuality will ultimately hurt his chances

SEE ALSO: Michael Sam: The NFL's Biggest Experiment

The football star said to the New York Times in an interview, “I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam: the gay athlete…I want to be defined as Michael Sam for being a great person and have great character,” and this, to me, is the underlying theme of the whole debate.

In other words, who cares? People are so caught up in the ideas of something – Lester and Carolyn Burns as the perfect American parents, May and Newland Archer as the perfect upper class New Yorkers, football players as the perfect manly men – that they forget to entertain the reality of situations. The point of football is to watch football, not to discuss the sexuality of its players. 

What homophobic or otherwise discriminatory Americans need to remember is that the United States itself was founded upon a coalition of differences. Everyone’s ancestors at some point immigrated to the country, and all moved to escape some part of their old lives and establish the unprecedented for themselves. General Manager Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots stated that Michael Sam's sexuality is not important to him; all he cares about is winning, and if Sam is good, he'll take him.

Even the Super Bowl Coca Cola ad, with its “controversial” diversity, was accompanied by “America The Beautiful,” written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates, an openly gay woman. If bigoted Americans would just scratch under the surface, they would find that little is as pristine or structured as originally perceived, and that's perfectly ok. 

The pursuit of happiness, whatever that may mean, was surely not intended to be the illusion of happiness. The NFL released a statement saying: “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” So the league itself has promised to protect Sam the best it can; hopefully its fans will follow suit. 


Contact reporter Sarah Collins here. Follow her on Twitter here



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