Sam out to sack another taboo
Here’s a quick sports quiz: Which is a bigger threat to the future of the National Football League — a college football player who hopes to be the first openly gay man drafted by an NFL team or the ongoing issue of players’ repeated concussions and lasting brain damage?
We’re betting that a decade from now, concussions and related brain damage will continue to be a problem, discouraging skilled athletes from playing football and costing the NFL multimillions in legal action.
But University of Missouri All-American Michael Sam’s announcement this week that he is gay? Ten years from now, that is likely to be recognized as an important milepost, but also an oddity from a bygone era, as numerous openly gay men compete successfully in pro football.
For now, Sam’s announcement, made public in interviews with The New York Times and ESPN, is big news. Most of the response has been positive from fans, the NFL and other players. But a few NFL players have said they don’t want a gay man on their team. And the expected anti-gay rants can be found in places in the Internet.
But here’s the thing. Those anti-gay rants aren’t as loud or as numerous as they would have been even a decade ago. That’s because societal acceptance of people with different sexual orientation is rapidly changing. Even people who have long been hostile to gays or gay rights now are likely to know a family member or friend who is a productive member of society and doesn’t fit their long-held stereotypes.
Consider the U.S. military. Until 20 years ago, any military personnel who were determined to be homosexual were summarily discharged. Then President Bill Clinton instituted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that actively encouraged gay military personnel to lie about their sexual preferences.
Now, finally, we have done away with legal discrimination against homosexuals in the military. While no doubt unsanctioned discrimination still exists, the biggest sexual issue the military faces is heterosexual assaults.
Or look at how views on gay unions have changed in the past decade. Colorado has joined many states in legalizing civil unions for members of the same sex, but even more states are authorizing gay marriage.
Finally, consider Sam’s own teammates. Columbia, Mo., is not known as a hotbed of gay-rights activity. And Sam said he was nervous when he decided to tell his fellow Tigers he was gay. Their reaction, he said, was, “Finally, he came out.”
As with Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s dream that one day people in this country will be judged entirely by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, we hope the day is coming when gay people won’t be defined primarily by their sexual orientation. Michael Sam’s announcement is one more indication that day is approaching more rapidly than many of us could have predicted even a few years ago.