Friday, August 29, 2014

Why is Michael Sam's Sexual Orientation the Most Noteworthy Thing About Him?

Michael Sam

Michael Sam is the first openly gay active player in the NFL.  This is a big thing, and worthy of attention.  Michael Sam is a pioneering symbol of the increasing acceptance of gays in our culture, but he is also a symbol of a much darker type of acceptance in our culture.  The acceptance of horror stories as normal background for black athletes.

Michael Sam is the seventh of eight children.  Of those eight children, two are dead, two are in jail, one has been missing for sixteen years, and one is a gay athlete who graduated from college and made it into the NFL.  While I am writing this it is still not clear whether he will make a regular season roster, the NFL is a tough place to make it.

As a child Michael Sam saw one of his brothers shot to death in front of him.  As a child Sam was maced by a police officer who was arresting his brother.  Sam lived in his mother's car for a time as a child.  Sam's parents split up when he was young.  Of the boys in his family, Sam is the only one who is not dead, missing, or in jail.  He is also the first member of his family to go to college.

Michael Sam also managed to get as far as he did without support from his family.  His mother didn't just not help him, she actively opposed him playing football on religious grounds (his mother is apparently a Jehovah's Witness).  In order to pursue football Michael Sam had to live with a friend's family, where he had his own room and chores.

I don't know that much about his family or his background, and that bothers me.  If Johnny Manziel had come from a similar background I would expect it to get a lot of press.  But stories like Michael Sam's are so common for black players that his seems hardly noteworthy.  

It's not that I think that Sam coming out as gay is not noteworthy.  It is definitely worthy of note, and it is important.  I just think that we should also be aware of what Sam has had to overcome to get to where he is, and homosexuality is not the biggest thing he had to overcome.  Acceptance of gays is good, and important.  Acceptance of death, violence, homelessness, and broken homes is not a good thing, but it is also important. 

Michael Sam is emblematic of where attention gets placed in our society.  LGBTQ rights and discrimination are issues that are in the spotlight, families like the one Sam came from are not.  We should not stop trying to create a more inclusive society.  LGBTQ issues should not be ignored.  But poverty and violence, and the ways that poverty and violence intersect with race in this country should not be ignored either.

1 comment:

  1. "Michael Sam is the first openly gay active player in the NFL." You asked the question in the title and then answered it in the first line of your article.