Today, I woke up to my Twitter TL collectively rolling their eyes at Michael Sam. I was surprised, not because they were annoyed by the sight of his name, but rather because he’s in the headlines at all. So why, exactly, is he relevant this time? You know why:
Michael Sam, who last May became the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, said on Thursday that he is not alone as a gay player in the NFL, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I am not the only gay person in the NFL,” Sam said at a Q&A session in Dallas.
Sam indicated that multiple players reached out to him to inform him that they are also gay, but do not yet have the courage to publicly come out. “The players who have reached out to me and told me about their sexual orientation, it just means a lot,” Sam said. “But I will never say anything about who they are, what teams they are [on]. I’m just saying there’s some famous people, and I’m not the only one.”
First of all, how is this newsworthy? It should come as a shock to nobody that there are closeted athletes – the sports locker room is society writ large. And besides, this is something Michael Sam has said before. I don’t see a single piece of new information in this story (was it the word ‘famous’?), yet it’s plastered all over social media and sports websites.
Now look, what Michael Sam did was absolutely courageous. Coming out as gay in the macho-football culture can’t be an easy thing to do, and he should certainly be applauded for it. People like him and Jason Collins–the recently-retired basketball player who became the first openly-gay player in the NBA–deserve a lot of credit for demonstrating what unfortunately isn’t quite obvious to some just yet: an athlete’s sexuality shouldn’t really matter. Their advocacy, though, seems to be rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, and it’s not due to homophobia or conservative views about sports and sexuality, per se. While being openly gay in sports is indeed groundbreaking, it’s hard to process seeing a player who is currently struggling to make an NFL-roster garner so much media attention, and seemingly for no other reason than his sexuality. That relationship between the message and the messenger is undermining whatever attempts Jason Collins, Michael Sam and the media are making to normalize gay athletes in the public’s conscious, and it’s because there’s nothing normal about the coverage.
Michael Sam was a beast at Missouri and his talent earned him First Team All-American status and co-Defensive Player of the Year honors. A poor combine, 7th-round selection and two waivings later, it’s fair to say that Sam, while a great college player, simply isn’t top NFL talent. Shouldn’t the media coverage, then, be commensurate with the talent level? That the only reason why he gets talked about in the media is due to his sexuality is a little off-putting. Personally, I have always maintained that society needs to hurry up and get to the point where someone’s sexuality doesn’t merit a “BREAKING NEWS” banner blaring across my TV screen. Progress when it comes to sexuality in sports, I think, is distinctly different from other civil rights battles because its ultimate success will be determined by how little it’s talked about. Low visibility means we’re moving forward, which isn’t exactly your typical barometer for success when it comes to most issues. We aren’t there yet, and this stuff is obviously still newsworthy, but it would be great if the media at least pretended to cover gay athletes like they did straight athletes instead of like museum exhibits that are to be ogled and stared at.
I’ve seen some interesting comments on social media that call into question whether or not Michael Sam is leveraging his sexuality to keep his name alive in the media. I’m really not here to question his motives, but the fact that his motives even come into question speaks to how distorted what is otherwise a positive message has become because of the talent level of the messenger. If it were someone like Tom Brady or Richard Sherman who came out as gay, think about how much more credible they would be. We would see their names in the headlines, they would get lots of face-time on “SportsCenter,” and none of it would seem forced because it’s Tom Brady/Richard Sherman! There would be no eye-rolling because it’s normal to talk about stars that are worth talking about. The fact that the coverage would mostly be about their play on the football field wouldn’t hurt either. But what’s not normal is for networks to provide wall-to-wall coverage for a 35-year-old NBA veteran’s press conference, particularly when it’s because he signed a 10-day contract. It’s also unnatural when the media gives all this attention to a player who has yet to even record an official NFL statistic, all because he offered the most Captain Obvious soundbite ever.
The fact that there are no superstars coming out of the closet obviously isn’t Michael Sam’s fault, but until a player comes along that is actually worthy of the headlines that sexuality in sports currently demands, there will always be questions about just how much we should be talking about gay athletes in sports.
Why The Media’s Clumsy Coverage Of LBGT Athletes Is Counterproductive was originally published on theurbandaily.com