Like A Gay Sonic Boom, Ctd

A couple of thoughts: yes, the double standards are not subtle; but no, it isn’t crazy that some people reacted to the black-white gay smooch with a little discomfort or even recoil. Even Comrade Stern is able to distinguish between a member of the KKK and someone who just goes “eww” when seeing something he doesn’t usually see and that involves tongues and tonsils and dudes. Not everyone, it appears, who still has that Al-Tipper moment in our scarred subconscious is a raging bigot. For this staggering act of empathy for the otherwise hate-filled masses, we thank Mr Stern. And let me heartily endorse his basic advice: go kiss on the mountain, fellas.

Yes, you can overdo it. When I was flush with out-of-the-closet freshness in my early twenties, I’d occasionally take a date or fling down to the Washington Monument. There was usually a line to get in, full of regular folks, and it made for a perfect audience. So – and yes, I know it’s obnoxious in retrospect – but we’d hang out affectionately and occasionally make out. It wasn’t a kiss-in. But it was a very early 1990s fusion of politics and sex. Friends of mine told me I’d get beaten up – but I figured that wasn’t going to happen smack dab on the Mall. And anyway, fuck it. I’ve obviously long since moved on, but I wonder, looking back, if somebody’s glimpse of us in their peripheral vision may have shifted someone’s perspective on the world just a little. A little discretion goes a long way, but it seems to me vital we do not censor ourselves for fear of reaction or propriety. If people are going to understand us, they have to see us as we are. Even if, as Vito and Michael revealed, it is in a moment of unrestrained joy. Perhaps especially then.

Like A Gay Sonic Boom, Ctd

Mary Elizabeth Williams reflects on Sam’s kiss with his boyfriend:

In his new Visa spot, Sam defiantly asks fans to “Judge me for what I do on the field.” But that very message acknowledges that his place in sports will always be defined both on and off it. Like other public figures, he’ll be watched and scrutinized for his private life and his relationships. That kiss – and the room full of supporters – invited the world to see Michael Sam as he is, both as a player and a man. He’s not going to play it down for the comfort of anybody else – and this is important. It’s important because it’s the answer to everybody who argues that they don’t have a problem with gay people, but you know, they just prefer them not to be quite so “open and avowed” about it.

While that kiss might not do anything to open the hearts of the crazy YouTube ranters, it is a big step toward tolerance and equality. So if you’ve somehow managed to successfully avert your eyes for too long, or think that gay people are fine as long as they’re not being gay in front of you, go ahead and look. It’s not scary or strange. This is love. This is celebration. This is normal.

Here’s what that embrace and kiss meant to me. It meant that Sam is not afraid, and neither is Vito, his boyfriend. There are no double standards here or special exceptions. If Sam were with a girlfriend, the scene would be utterly banal, if still beautiful. It helps that they are so young – because they are not yet old enough to have their minds clogged with qualifications, warnings, worries. They just respond as two people in love. In that moment, the hug matters more than the kiss; and the faces more than the hug. Look at Vito in the video as he waits for and absorbs the news. The anxiety, the trepidation, the concern for his partner: this is what love looks like.

Then there is the interracial aspect.

The love between a black man and a white man punches a hole through the wall of racism, just as the love of a black man and a white woman or a white man and a black woman. And it punches it with love. There is way too much embedded racism in the gay community, way too much lingering homophobia among African-Americans, and way too much sexual-racial segregation all around. Breaking these impulses down is the work of culture, not law, and as such, it’s life that helps move us forward, not politics. By showing us a simple, obvious love affair across race and within gender, Vito and Michael strip us down to a deeper human identity.

It helps too that this was not a staged kiss. It was incidental to something else: a rite of passage for a football player. And that’s the best way to glimpse love – in passing. It’s always more authentic that way. And it shows too, I think, that it’s not quite right to say that love knows no boundaries. There are boundaries everywhere – class, race, religion, gender, language, geography and on and on. And they are real and daunting at times. But love is uniquely capable of piercing those boundaries in a fundamental way. When it does so, even once, in front of all of us, it creates just a little more breathing space for more people to be more fully human, to be more fully themselves. And I think this is increasingly not lost on straight people. They see that the gay rights movement is not about gays as such, but about humanity. Not just gay potential – but our collective human potential.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver admits he was wrong to assume that Michael Sam “would be chosen by a team like the Patriots or the Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers that play in an urban area especially tolerant toward gay people.” Why he thinks “St. Louis was probably the best fit all along”:

Interest in the Tigers [the University of Missouri football team, which Sam played on,]  is about 50 times higher in Missouri than in the rest of the country, according to the number of Google searches. In other words, a higher percentage of people in St. Louis and elsewhere in Missouri will know of Sam as a football player and not just as a gay athlete. Here’s hoping that helps him to concentrate on what he does best.

Ian Crouch points out that Sam’s “spot on the Rams is far from assured”:

Seventh-round picks are never locks to make the final roster, and it appears that Sam will be competing for a place on special teams, rather than as an everyday starter. In February, when he came out, Sam had been projected as somewhere near a third-round pick. But there were concerns that he was too small to be lineman in the pros, and his performance at the draft combine left scouts doubtful of his ability to play the smaller position of linebacker, which requires speed as well as strength. His new coach, Jeff Fisher, spoke about his team’s commitment to fair treatment, but was plain about Sam’s prospects: “It’s not going to be easy. We’re too deep at defensive end. But he deserves a chance.”

Robert Silverman agrees that this will be a challenge:

 He’s going to have to carve out a roster spot on what is generally considered the best defensive line in pro football, featuring stars Robert Quinn and Chris Long, an emerging talent in Michael Brookers, and fellow Rams draftee, Aaron Donald, the 13th player chosen in the 1st round.

Jazz Shaw adds that “if this guy were any other regular player coming out of the college ranks, nobody would exactly faint from shock if he wound up without a team on opening day this fall.” He worries about the reaction should that happen:

Like many, many other young hopefuls, the chance is not only real but fairly high that he might not make the cut and the Rams will have to turn him loose to free agency, where his prospects may not look much better. But now he’s captured media lightning in a bottle. If he is cut, will the immediate howls begin across the small screen Left side blogs, claiming that the Rams’ ownership must all be hateful homophobes? Will boycotts be organized? Will this be held up from the highest ramparts as yet another example of the heteronormative patriarchy keeping the gay man down?

Or will people understand that the Rams are there to try to win another Superbowl and they can’t afford even one weak link in the chain?

Meanwhile, Sam jerseys are selling like hotcakes:

Orders for Michael Sam’s St. Louis Rams jerseys were the second-highest of any NFL rookie drafted this weekend. … “This is unprecedented for a Day 3 pick, let alone a seventh round pick, to crack the top five rookies sold following Draft weekend,” said NFL spokesperson Joanna Hunter.

Draft Day

Missouri v Mississippi

Nate Silver rates Michael Sam’s chances of being picked at 50-50. Daniel D. Snyder examines the downplaying of Michael Sam’s skills:

It’s not uncommon for players to lose draft stock over non-football issues. Every year, terms like “character concerns,” “low motor,” and “locker room diva” get flung around during the draft process, and they have the power to drive players, deserving or not, into the later rounds and even right off the board. … Michael Sam doesn’t have these issues. He has no arrest record. He has a high motor. He has the love of his teammates, who have called him a “great guy” and a “great leader.” He is, by all accounts, the kind of high-character prospect coaches gush over at press conferences. So in the absence of a negative, his detractors have taken to attacking his football acumen instead.

The trouble is that these criticisms don’t hold up to actual analysis. In one of the many incorrect assessments of Sam’s game, one NFC scout in [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Bob] McGinn’s piece said, “He has trouble in space and struggles changing directions.” As it turns out, this may be what Sam does best. Retired NFL lineman Stephen White, in his extensive breakdown on SB Nation, called Sam “the best corner rusher I have broken down thus far.” Better even than his teammate and projected first-round pick Kony Ealy, who, it should be noted, Sam outproduced while playing in the same system against the same competition.

Robert Silverman’s take on the Sam evaluations:

 The difficulty is that both Michael Sam the football player and Michael Sam the gay football player are being evaluated as a prospect by a multibillion-dollar business, specifically one that treats both its potential and current workers like hunks of very large, profit-generating meat that can and will be discarded or shunned at the drop of a hat if they in any way imperil the bottom line. …

You might call it cowardly or a convenient way to dodge the fact that they’re indirectly validating any bigotry on the part of both players and fans alike, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But corporations are not and have never been moral actors, or entities in service of the greater good. They exist to make a profit. Period.

But Joseph Stromberg NFL finds that, “despite years of data, most NFL teams still have no idea how to work the draft most effectively”:

It’s not their imperfect player evaluation, but something more basic — their refusal to follow the principle of risk diversification. That’s the conclusion economists Cade Massey and Richard Thaler came to after analyzingfifteen years of draft data in a series of papers — and it’s still true, despite recent changes to the wages rookies are paid.

Draft picks can be traded, and the success of any one player picked is highly uncertain. Because of that, their data says that in the current trade market, teams arealways better off trading down — that is, trading one high pick for multiple lower ones — but many teams become overconfident in their evaluation of one particular player and do the exact opposite: package several low picks for the right to take one player very early.

Aaron Gordon cites the same research:

To make the overconfidence effect even more pronounced, as Thaler and Massey wrote, the more information experts have to base their decisions on, the more confident they become. This wrinkle is particularly relevant this year, with the NFL draft being held two weeks later than normal. Teddy Bridgewater, a quarterback out of Louisville, provides a good case study: Over the past month or so, Bridgewater has fallen from being viewed as the top quarterback, and possibly the top player, in the draft to someone who’s not even worth a first-round pick. The number of games he’s played during that time: zero. Teams have been able to study Bridgewater for months, so what gives? With all this extra downtime to prepare for the draft, teams have time to second-guess themselves.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Sports Equality Update

A reader puts the latest coming-out in context:

As a former athlete, I have been stunned and inspired lately by the college athletes who have come out to their teams. They have all been widely accepted. Today, OutSports announced the first openly gay active college football player (another recently came out as bi). After he came out to his team, “When he had finished speaking, the team erupted in applause.” I had to reread that line a few times for it to sink in. A college football team applauding their teammate for coming out to them. Just a few years ago, I would have never thought I would read something like this for decades. But this just happened. Two weeks ago. In 2014.

So far, this has been the year of gay athletes:

Jason Collins (NBA). Michael Sam (future NFL player). Matt Kaplon (starting catcher at Drew University). Conner Mertens (freshman kicker at Willamette Univeristy). Chandler Whitney (Conner’s boyfriend and baseball player at Walla Walla Community College). Drew Davis and Juan Varona (gay volleyball teammates at Erskine College in rural South Carolina). Matt Dooley (tennis player at Notre Dame). Parker Camp (swimmer at University of Virginia).  Scott Cooper (linebacker at Augsburg University). Jesse Klug (soccer player at Bucknell University).

I probably missed some. This is an avalanche. Yes, some of them are on “small” teams. But that makes it more poignant to me. Smaller teams at smaller colleges are more of a family. The acceptance from these athletes’ teammates shows that. I’m glowing with pride for these athletes and their teammates. Had these positive gay athlete role models existed just 10 years ago, I can only imagine making some different decisions regarding my own athletics.

Update from a reader:

Chapman University (motto: “Christ and Church”) is non-profit university affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), making Eby’s coming out even more interesting.

Another reader:

Michael Sam will hardly be alone if he gets drafted into the NFL this year. Check this out, from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column:

One of the stars of the show in Orlando was Wade Davis, the former NFL player who came out as gay after he retired. He’s consulting with the league on gay issues. Davis left several coaches and GMs a bit open-mouthed when he told them: “Every one of you guys has two or three gay guys on your team. I know. I talk to them.”

Denver coach John Fox said “high on his list,” when his team gets back together in April, will be talking to the group about locker-room inclusiveness. “I thought [Davis’ talk] was the most incredible thing I’ve seen here [at a league meeting], and I’ve been coming to these a long time.”

Vince Lombardi said essentially the same thing in the 1960s that Wade Davis says now. The big difference is, football fans today mainly care about how well the guy plays.

The Death-Throes Of The Anti-Gay Movement


I know the danger to gay people remains great, and I don’t want to minimize the impact of living in a state where businesses of all kinds are empowered by law to put “No Gays Allowed” or “No Gays Served” in their best practices. But in America in the 21st Century, the movement that seeks to legislate outright discrimination against a tiny minority is doomed to bitter failure. It’s doomed because the principle of non-discrimination is now endemic in American culture – and among the younger generation the first article of their civil religion. Such a principle became embedded in the national identity in the Civil Rights era, where the evil of Jim Crow laws was exposed with fatal finality.

Now, the Christianist right is putting its full weight behind legal discrimination against any groups or individuals who might offend someone’s sincerely held religious conscience. Arizona’s Senate just passed a new bill expanding the concept of religious freedom from being the province of “religious assemblies and institutions” to a much broader category that includes “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” So rights once accorded to purely religious institutions are now for anyone – any business, any teacher, any pharmacist, any florist, any hotel-owner and on and on.

I’ve had my say on this, but it’s worth reiterating that this bill has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. It is, rather, is an attack on Christian principles and a betrayal of the Gospels.

If there was one aspect of organized religion that Jesus opposed, it was its attempt to draw lines around the unclean, the marginalized and the sinners. Among his radical acts was immersing himself with sinners of all sorts – prostitutes, lepers, and collaborators with an occupying power. Segregation – the placing of a group of unholy people outside of mainstream interaction – was anathema to Jesus and should be to all Christians. To construct a legal regime in which those people are fair game for outright ostracism and segregation is a disgusting inversion of both democratic and Christian values.

I was struck recently by the massive show of support that Michael Sam received from his Missouri peers when the Westboro Baptist Church decided to picket the university with signs decrying “fag footballers and their enablers.” They formed a line 2,000 strong to block the protest from view. Many of the students backing Sam were devoutly Christian. Here’s how they explained their position:

Yes, practicing homosexuality is a sin. But so is lying, so is cheating, so is coveting. I sin every day. God hates the sin, not the sinner. If God hated all the sinners, he’d hate me!

When will the generation of bigots and Christianists cede to a new generation of citizens and Christians? How long do we have to wait? And how long do we have to tolerate a political party that, far from taking this on, merely aids and abets its poison?

(Painting: Zacchaeus by Niels Larsen Stevns. Jesus calls Zacchaeus, a tax collector for the Romans, down from his height in the tree and asks to stay with him in his house.)

“A Man’s-Man Game” Ctd

A reader writes:

If Michael Sam is drafted by a well-coached/managed team, and if he can sack quarterbacks and hard-hit running backs, he’ll be just fine.  Remember the handwringing of conservatives when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ended in 2011?  OMG the showers, the showers, the showers – straight guys atremble at the thought of a gay guy ogling their schlongs. Crickets.

Dave Cullen, who is writing his next book on two gay Army officers under DADT, makes that connection as well:

The old men of the NFL are trotting out the same tired arguments the codgers in the Pentagon got away with for years. The military fretted about “unit cohesion.” This week, the charge sounds comically pettier: They keep referring to telling the truth as a “distraction.” Both old guards feign horror at nakedness in the showers—as if most straight men in America haven’t pulled their dicks out at a urinal beside a gay guy in the last week.

[Sportswriter Rob] Rang copped to the comparison: “There remains a bit of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy” in the NFL he wrote. A bit? That’s precisely the unwritten policy every gay player has adhered to in the history of the NFL. You can be gay, as long as you lie about it. … I’ve spent years following a handful of gay soldiers, and the lengths they went to hide the truth—big and especially small—were mind-boggling.

They start with de-gaying the house. A lieutenant colonel described rushing home to de-gay before hosting his unit’s Christmas party: Hide pictures with gay friends and any iffy music or magazines. An Ani DiFranco or Tori Amos can be neutralized with a hefty country section or heavy metal. “Lighting and bathroom products—those were the biggest tells,” the officer said. “Not too many lamps—too much dim lighting screamed lady friend!”  No more than two or three hair “products.” Bonus points for Pert Plus or Vaseline Intensive Care; no rejuvenating lotion or eye cream, and never ever anything labeled Clinique.

Football is actually less uber-macho than the army, and Michael Sam probably could have gotten away with a Clinique bottle, especially if he balanced it with enough NASCAR and Bud Light. But he had a boyfriend. That gets really tough, especially once the guy moves in. “Roommate” is the obvious alibi, but that introduces surprisingly-complex new lies.

Read all of the Dish’s coverage of Michael Sam here. One more reader:

Did I miss something or has nobody commented on the exquisite timing of Michael Sam’s announcement coming right after the opening of Sochi/Putin’s Anti-Gay Winter Olympics?

The Right’s Near Silence On Michael Sam

Cohn observes it:

First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden each issued personally signed tweets praising Sam. So did several Democratic senators, including Clare McCaskill of Missouri. But do you know who hasn’t made a statement? Missouri’s other senator, the Republican—Roy Blunt. And there’s been a similarly odd split in the media. Pretty much every left-of-center publication has weighed in—Mother Jones, the Nation, and the American Prospect all had something to say. There appears to be nothing at National Review or the Weekly Standard. The Fox News seems similarly bereft of commentary.

In fact, the only conservative punditry on Sam I’ve seen was an odd, if predictably unpleasant, rant from Rush Limbaugh.

Dan Savage spots and dismantles one of the few other right-wing responses:

Sam, who cares about your sexual preference?”, asks a conservative blogger. We actually do care about the sexual preferences of pro-athletes (or about-to-go-pro athletes)—their orientations, their escapades, their taste in Kardashians—but since everyone is presumed to be straight until they say otherwise (a not unreasonable assumption, as most people are straight), only gay or bi athletes are in the position of having to announce their sexual orientations. No one objects when the straight-by-default assumption essentially (and loudly and accurately) announces a heterosexual athlete’s sexual orientation—but let a gay person announce his sexual orientation and watch the rightwingers have aneurysms.

The Struggles Of Michael Sam, Ctd

A truly inspired piece of commentary:

A reader notes:

I read the quote you posted from the New York Times about Michael Sam’s upbringing and nearly fell out of my chair. To recap, Michael had four brothers. One of them tried to join a gang and was killed as a result. Another mysteriously disappeared over a decade ago and is likely dead. The other two are in prison with no explanation. The article also stated that absolutely nobody in the family had ever even attended college before Michael Sam and that the father took one of his sons to Mexico to lose his virginity to a prostitute.

Now ask social conservatives: who is the most moral member of the family? Is it the people who show traditional family values like sexual depravity, delinquency, abandonment of family members and organized crime? Or is it Michael Sam?

Let’s put it this way: we should not judge people by the specifics of their sexual orientation, straight, bi, or gay; we should judge them by the content of their character.

The Struggles Of Michael Sam

The NYT profile is quite something. And what you glean from it is that, for Sam growing up, his sexual orientation was the least of his troubles:

Life had hardly been kind to him or his family. Michael Sr. and his mother, JoAnn Sam, were separated after having eight children. He went to North Texas to work as a trucker. She tried to keep what was left of her family together. A sister drowned when she was 2, before Michael was born, when another child accidentally knocked her off a fishing pier. Another brother, Russell, was 15 when he was shot and killed trying to break into a home, in what his father said was part of a gang initiation. Another brother, Julian, has not been heard from since he left for work one day in 1998; his family believes he is dead. Two others are in jail.

One of the more frustrating things about being gay can be the assumption that your sexual orientation must have been the toughest thing about your childhood or adolescence. And so the gay identity – attached with every good intention – can erase the complicated identities of Missouri v Mississippiactual gay people, whose lives are shaped, like those of straight people, by all the slings and arrows of general fortune. For some of us, being gay was a minor variation in the symphony of our childhood and adolescence, compared with all the other things going on. And for some of us, being gay wasn’t a trap, it was also a form of liberation. It wasn’t the problem we had to solve; it was the solace that made those problems surmountable.

You see that in Sam’s life – the clear importance of his friendships in sustaining him, the camaraderie of his fellow gays at the local gay bar, and the overwhelming role of football in giving him a way out of his deeply challenging background. It seems to me that Sam’s real breakthrough is therefore not just in being a gay potential NFL player, but in showing how, for a new generation, being gay need not be the defining issue of life, and yet can also be a liberating gift.

This is not a life made tragic by homosexuality. It is a life empowered by it.