Journalism and Society in the Microcosm that is Michael Sam

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It’s been exactly a week since the NFL Draft ended, and yet still people are talking about it. However, it isn’t for the reasons you think it is. Ever since the draft ended, there have been two prospects whose names have been highlighted. One is a polarizing athlete who is expected to be the next big star for the hapless Cleveland Browns, the other is a 7th round draft pick who’s being admired for his courage for being the first openly homosexual football player.

Days after days on end, football fans have been told that Michael Sam is a hero, and that the St. Louis Rams did the right thing in using one of their picks to get him. Also, footage of his reaction to being drafted has somehow made it on TV every day this week, of him kissing his boyfriend. ESPN, NFL Network, plenty of news networks, President Obama, all of them have admired Sam for his courage. Sam is the ultimate human interest story, despite being milked to the point where there is nothing to milk, his kiss is still being shown, his courage and heroism is still being lauded, and so on.

The question that we must ask ourselves is whether or not this is actual courage, and whether or not he is a hero.

First off, let’s start off with the dictionary definitions of courage and hero.

Courage is defined as strength in the face of pain or grief. while hero is defined as a person who is admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

Let me be the first to ask the question, how is Michael Sam courageous?

When he admitted his homosexuality, first to his football team, then to the media, he was embraced. lauded, and touted as courageous. People said that he overcame adversity through strength. How exactly did he do that? Unless the Missouri football team treated him poorly after he came out, unless the media bashed him for being homosexual in possibly the most testosterone injected sport in the world, I don’t see any adversity. Sure, there obviously were people against him, the Westboro Baptist Church, plenty of fundamentalist groups, and such, but those represent the lunatic fringe, not society in general. We get that his father wasn’t exactly supportive of his sexuality, and probably still isn’t, but again, this is the smallest minority. In fact, plenty of people, homosexual or not, were praising him for coming out. Even when he did his workouts prior to the draft and bombed them, there still was a great majority of people behind him, people who wanted him in the NFL. The NFL wanted him in the NFL. And when he did get drafted, people cheered, and there was talk of progress, and a great step forward in society.

I’m sorry, where’s the courage? Where’s the adversity?

Sam was practically carried to the point where he was drafted. He’d be more courageous if he was a prospect during the years that homosexuality was ridiculed. If he had been a college football player eligible for the 1998 draft and had come out sometime between the draft and the Matthew Shepard murder, then he would be courageous. The only real adversity he has endured during the period between coming out and getting drafted was the uncertainty of whether or not he was going to be drafted. However, there were those who believed that him not being drafted would have caused a backlash in the LGBT community. Former football player Wade Davis, who came out after retiring from football, said that it would have been seen as homophobic if he wasn’t drafted. Exactly who is struggling through adversity now? You have 32 teams, with 256 selections divided among them. The options are clear cut. Either draft him, be constantly praised by society for “doing what’s right” and have the media converge on your practice facility just to watch Sam to the point where it is a Tebow-like media circus, or let him become an undrafted free agent, have everyone who doesn’t know about football cry discrimination and deal with the impending PR fiasco. It comes to the point that there was a slippery slope here.

Frankly, I’m not bothered as much by that, but rather by the constant showing of Michael Sam’s kiss. Before accusing me however, at least hear me out though.

Sam has every right to kiss whom he wants, He could have kissed his mother, he could have hugged his father, he could have done whatever he wanted to do, and he did want he wanted to do by kissing his boyfriend. We saw it. Plenty of people loved it, some obviously hated it, others have no reaction. However, instead of leaving it at the one kiss, we have to see it again and again on TV  for the first few days after the draft. It’s almost as if the media is forcing us to accept something that we can clearly formulate our own opinion on.

I was fine with the kiss. I saw it exactly for what it was, a kiss. However, like an english major writing a term paper on a book and rereading a passage, looking for symbolism where it shouldn’t be, the news networks felt the need to play it over and over and over to the point where it became more ingrained in my head than that annoying ear worm of a song they played during ESPN’s coverage of the draft. I had to change the channel a few times to stop seeing something I already had an opinion on.

This unfortunately is what’s wrong with media and journalism today. What was once objective and based on fact has devolved into fluff and an overabundance of human interest. It’s someone saying “People are too stupid to form their own opinion, let’s force it down their throats and make them join our side, and if they don’t like it we can label them as anti-gay.” Exactly what is being accomplished here? Are you trying to ferret out those who really don’t like the kiss by pulling a Clockwork Orange-like Ludovico technique, waiting for them to jump on social media and say “stop showing the kiss, it’s been way overplayed” so that people can accuse that person of homophobia? Is it not enough that two athletes who watched that same clip the first time voiced their displeasure and are now being ostracized for their opinion?

Moving into that, we saw the negative reactions from ordinary people, but it was the sports world that saw two really bad examples of negative reaction. Miami Dolphins cornerback Don Jones tweeted “OMG” and “horrible” after watching the kiss, and has now been slapped with a fine, been forced to undergo education training in order to be reinstated, and has had to apologize to Sam for what he tweeted. I’m not supporting Jones, but I’m fairly certain he had a right to his own opinion and if he didn’t like what he saw, he had every right to voice his displeasure. Sure, he played for the same team that last season underwent major media scrutiny because of a massive bullying scandal, but really, was Jones going to do anything after voicing his displeasure? And of course it’s a miracle that GLAAD, the anti-defamation alliance for homosexuals, hasn’t called for his head like they did with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson after he made public his opinions on homosexual marriage.

Similarly, Mississippi basketball player Marshall Henderson posted a series of tweets condemning the Sam kiss, but cited being a subject in a psychology experiment done by his friend. Here’s the problem with Henderson, however. He was a top basketball prospect, but unfortunately his tweets incriminate him as a homophobe, psychology study or not. His draft stock has definitely taken a gigantic fall, probably to the point where he wouldn’t even be offered a tryout with an NBA team. While we will never really know if Henderson’s tweets were his own personal opinion or those for a study, it’s clear that his actions have made him a pariah.

So really, the question is whether Sam is really showing courage, or if people are laying out the red carpet for him. Here’s the thing. If Sam really was facing adversity, we’d know it. The lunatic fringe is not the majority, rather, it represents a microcosm of society. Almost widespread acceptance and adulation from the public is not adversity, and Sam is not showing courage by walking down a red carpet. People are calling Sam a role model, and he is, most definitely for LGBT people, maybe for those who support gay rights. But Sam shouldn’t have to be a role model to everyone, nor should people be forced to accept him as a role model. If there are people who want to view him as just another football player, fine, let them. If there are people who don’t want him as a role model, then they have every right to say no, and nobody should force them to say otherwise. The media should stop forcing the “openly gay football player” epithet down our throats, and let us decide whether we want to refer to him as such, or refer to him the way we want. We have a right to our own opinion, and if we want to say that Michael Sam isn’t special, then we have every right to that opinion.

Lastly, we have to ask ourselves, what about Michael Sam? If he saw what was coming forth, the reactions, the positive, the negative, the witch hunts for the homophobes, what would he say?

While I can’t speak personally for Sam, I can probably say that Sam didn’t want this type of media frenzy. At the end of the day, he’s just another football player trying to make the team. As a seventh round draft pick, he has less of a shot at making the team’s 53 man roster than a higher round pick. His homosexuality is not going to be used as a means to advance his career. I can’t possibly imagine coach Jeff Fisher going over a roster and saying, “Michael’s going to make the team because he’s gay”. If Fisher wants Sam on his team, he’s going to award the spot to him because of his ability and his performance in training camp, not because of Sam’s sexual preference. And if Sam is cut, it isn’t because he’s gay, it’s because he didn’t do well in training camp. This is obviously going to present the biggest problem, because Sam is literally a moneymaker right now. He already is going to be doing a series on his experience as a football player, produced by Oprah, no less, and his jersey is currently the second best selling jersey among rookies on NFL.com’s shop. Cutting him will send the wrong message, not only to those who view him as a barrier breaker, but those who were impulsive enough to by the jersey before figuring out if Sam made the team. Again, I point out. if he doesn’t make it, it’s nothing on his sexual preferences, the team isn’t discriminating against him and Fisher isn’t a homophobe, and honestly, the consumers are the real idiots because they felt the need to show their solidarity by putting an investment into a 7th round draft pick’s jersey.

So in conclusion, Michael Sam is a human interest story, but in no way did he overcome adversity, or is courageous. It is the media, and society who has made him to be a hero when in truth, he is another football player looking to make an impression through his play. Let Michael be who he is, but don’t put him on a pedestal quite yet. Being gay doesn’t necessarily qualify you as a hero, and to be completely honest, nobody should be a hero simply by stating their sexual preference.  I wish Sam the best of luck as a football player, but I hope that he knows that his sexual preference does not serve as an advancer on his career.

 

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8 comments

    • alexgiobbi

      If I recall correctly, the audience, or to be more accurate, one or two peopler booed the question, not the solider. He introduced himself as a gay soldier, said that he had to hide his sexuality, and then asked the question, at which point, one or two individuals, not the entire crowd, booed. Here’s a link proving these statements are true.

      http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2011/09/23/gop-debate-did-audience-boo-gay-soldier-or-his-question/

      One or two people booing amongst a large crowd does not incriminate a whole crowd. It’s a fringe minority expressing their opinion, not a large group of people showing homophobia or discrimination.

      • alexgiobbi

        I watched that same debate. I heard those same people. If you’re going to interpret where the boos started as a sign of mass homophobia, then fine. I think you’re wrong, but I’m not going to give you ammunition to call me a homophobe.

        I will however point out this to you and I want you to understand this. The above article is not criticizing Michael Sam for his choices or actions, it is criticizing the media for relying on emotion and overuse of the human interest angle instead of fact and logic, and turning one man’s public coming out into a circus. It is also pointing out that the definition of courage and heroism are being misapplied in this context, and that society and the media are actually making this into a worse situation by not allowing people who have no opinion or who do and don’t agree with their opinion to make their own judgement.

  1. pinkagendist

    That’s a generalized media problem that isn’t reserved to gay issues. There were 50 cameras set up to film the faces of the families of people related to passengers of the missing Malaysian aeroplane (second by second).
    Singling out a gay player doesn’t give the best impression.

    • alexgiobbi

      Very true, in fact I wrote a 5 page political debate paper on the exact same subject However, this article focuses on what’s happened recently. If you think that I’m using this piece to bash Sam and gays, then I really wish that you would take the time to read the whole article again.

      • pinkagendist

        The choice of picture of defence of people who boo gay soldiers somewhat undermines your point.
        Sensationalism to decry sensationalism?

  2. alexgiobbi

    I’m sorry, but I have no idea what point you are trying to get across. What I am getting from you is that you are trying to start a fight. I’m in no mood to debate someone who clearly doesn’t read the whole piece, understand that this is a sports blog talking about a sports topic which has metastasized into a topic of society, and who clearly is the only person here who is offended by something that isn’t intended to offend.

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