“A Man’s-Man Game”

Missouri v Mississippi

Marc Tracy eagerly awaits the draft, which is in May:

A comparison to Jason Collins, the National Basketball Association player who came out last spring, is instructive … Collins came out at age 34 and near or at the conclusion of his career as a professional athlete, having made a living playing ball for 12 years. Sam came out at age 24 and the very beginning of his career, with all of his earning years ahead of him. Especially given where they respectively are, Sam is simply better, and therefore risking more.

Sports Illustrated lets anonymous NFL insiders sound off:

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

All the NFL personnel members interviewed believed that Sam’s announcement will cause him to drop in the draft. He was projected between the third and seventh rounds prior to the announcement. The question is: How far will he fall?

“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?'”

A “man’s-man game.” What’s interesting to me is how that assessment of football is used to exclude homosexuals!

But that’s simply a function of ignorance. That formulation equates homosexuality with femininity, but it’s a much more complicated and diverse phenomenon than that. There are, it seems to me, many homosexualities – across the entire male-female spectrum, with many different routes to adulthood. Yes there are many gays who identify with women and the company of women. But there are also many who identify with men and the company of men (and along the entire spectrum in between). There are hyper-masculine gays as well as hyper-feminine ones and everything in between. (There’s also, I’d argue, more muted diversity along these lines among straight men as well.)

What we’ve been witnessing these last couple of decades, as the stigma against gayness has abated, is the emergence of more and more gay men who could have passed for straight and remained closeted or even married to a woman in days gone by. These gay men are often invisible both to gay insiders who revere and enjoy more traditional manifestations of gayness and to straight people who simply assume that more traditionally masculine-type men are never gay. But these gay men exist, are out in increasing numbers, and deserve just as much dignity and acceptance as anyone else. What Sam’s honesty has done is help explode crude and overly-narrow assumptions about gay men – particularly among sports-fans and African-Americans. And yes, I think his race is important. The stereotypes about gay men as intrinsically feminine are deeply embedded in African-American culture. If black gay men are to have the future they deserve, the stereotypes need to end. Michael Sam just opened up a whole new arena for mutual understanding and human dignity.

Ian Crouch also pushes back against the SI piece:

[I]t is deeply unfair and disingenuous of N.F.L. personnel to somehow suggest that Michael Sam has made himself into a distraction by coming out. Rumors about his sexual orientation were reportedly already being passed around by teams. And, last year, the word leaked that, before the draft, teams were asking prospective players questions like “Do you have a girlfriend?” and “Do you like girls?” Sam hasn’t made his sexual orientation a so-called “issue,” he simply took control of his story before the N.F.L. could.

Tyler Lopez expects Sam to make the team that drafts him a lot of money:

Contrary to the age-old “gays hate sports” stereotype, the LGBTQ community is currently embracing sports. And it’s not just the homoerotic spectacle of uniformed men grinding it out on the gridiron. The gay sports world has never been more profitable. … Mike Sam will unite legions of gay sports fans behind one player like never before. (David Beckham doesn’t count.) Aside from bringing more LGBTQ fans to stadiums across the country, Sam’s drafting will signal a sea change for fans who previously feared the testosterone-laden beer pits of the past. While some homophobic fans will avoid your merchandise, Sam won’t be the only player to come out in the next few years. But he will always be the first.

TNC zooms out:

When black soldiers joined the Union Army they were not merely confronting prejudice—they were pushing the boundaries of manhood. And when the Night Witches flew over German lines, they were confronting something more—the boundaries of humanity itself. Groups define themselves by what they are and what they are not: Niggers are never men, ladies are never soldiers, and faggots don’t play football. When Michael Sam steps on a football field, he likely will not merely be playing for his career but, in some sense, for his people.

In that sense he will be challenging a deep and discrepant mythology of who is capable of inflicting violence and who isn’t.

(Photo: Michael Sam #52 of the Missouri Tigers participates in pregame activities prior to a game against the Ole Miss Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Oxford, Mississippi. Missouri defeated Ole Miss 24-10. By Stacy Revere/Getty Images.)