On Michael Sam and the NFL
Last week, I wrote about Bill Cosby instead of Michael Sam, a potential NFL player, coming out before the NFL draft. Since I do write about football here occasionally, I thought that I might say a word about the Sam news even though the story has chilled. Of course, as one expects after such announcements are made, the internet is clogged with homophobes declaring, well, their homophobic disappointment, folks giving Sam daps and props for being brave, and folks talking about how the aforementioned homophobes really need to get their lives together. Here’s a popular example:
Shout out to Dale Hansen for saying some things that need to be said. Although I don’t entirely agree with the analogies made, I understand, and on some levels support, the broader point. Hansen is probably one of the better examples of folks calling anonymous football players and NFL executives out for their comments about whether Sam would be drafted, whether the announcement hurt his draft position, and how the NFL culture might be disrupted with him in the locker room.
As necessary as it is for folks to be checked on accepting folks who exhibit poor behavior, like bullying, but not being cool with an openly gay player in the locker room, I think the effort to expose how problematic that kind of thinking is really obscures one of the key reasons for this homophobic “uproar”: Some dudes just don’t want to have to be forced into thinking about their sexuality like that, and Michael Sam being part of the brotherhood seems to compel some men into thinking that articulating their disapproval somehow proves how solidly heterosexual they are. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: football is a hypermasculine, homosocial, and homoerotic sport. And as much as some of the men who play football seem to want to ignore those last two points, it seems less and less likely that they will be able to do so once Michael Sam and the others who will follow join the fraternity. Although I do think the resistance we’ve been hearing is partly rooted in the ridiculous idea that same-gender loving men have no standards and therefore will go after any man they can find, I think another part of that resistance is grounded in the fact that these men are going to have to come to terms with the fact that sexuality, even theirs, is fluid and unstable. The presumed heterosexuality of others can work as a kind of insulation from thoughts about one’s own sexuality, but when someone stands up and says, “I’m different,” one cannot help but wonder if others, including the one doing the wondering, is different, too.
I have never been inside an NFL locker room, but I have hope. After all, life as an NFL player is short and fleeting. As such, the league is constantly getting reinforcements from the college ranks. Sam not only told his college teammates, but the team voted him a captain, and Sam’s sexuality did not become headline news until Sam was ready to do so. I don’t know if Missouri is an anomaly, but I hope it isn’t. And if it isn’t, that means that the young men who populate NFL teams will be just as open-minded and supportive as Sam’s teammates. And maybe, once the season has started, we’ll realize that that the only reason why Sam’s announcement was such an incredibly huge deal was because we gave way to anxieties and listened to a vocal minority that was loud, but numerically insignificant.