Saturday, May 17, 2014

Why "The Kiss" is Signficant

I've had a busy week, and I haven't had a chance to react to the big pop culture news of the week.  We'll call it..."the Kiss".

"The Kiss"
Michael Sam and Vito Cammisano
Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams last week in the very last round of the NFL Draft.  After a poor combine performance, some questioned whether the star college player would even be drafted at all by an NFL team, but the Rams decided to take a chance on him.

When I say take a chance on him, I mean take a chance on Sam as a football player.  It's incredibly hard to make a 53-man NFL roster, and Sam will have to show he's worthy of a spot to pull on that Rams helmet in an official NFL game.

What makes Michael Sam's selection more significant is that Sam, as you probably know, is openly gay.  When he got the call from the Rams, ESPN was there to capture the moment, and what a sweet moment it was.

Sam and his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, kissed and embraced as his family cheered loudly.  It's a scene that's played out in living rooms across the country on draft day with one exception.  In the past, if a player had a girlfriend or a wife, it was her they embraced.  It was an amazing cultural moment preserved for posterity by ESPN.

I watched it on YouTube only to write this piece, and I have to say that it's pretty tame.  It's just an excited football player sharing a moment with the person he loves most in the world and those around him.

Some have made it out to be much more than that.  Others have put it in the proper context.

The argument that seems to be emerging from many on the right is two-fold.  First, that ESPN should not have aired the kiss live because parents didn't have a chance to shield their children from the horrible sight of two men kissing.  The other is that Michael Sam is getting a lot of attention for being gay, and Tim Tebow got a lot of grief for being Christian.

I'll take the second part first.  Comparing Michael Sam to Tim Tebow is ridiculous on a number of levels.  Tebow was a first round draft pick by the Denver Broncos, and he was seen as someone taken too high in the draft for his skillset.  Sam, on the other hand, was taken right about where he should have been taken as a player.

What happened to Tim Tebow is not the fault of Michael Sam, and he should not be given grief over it.  People reacted to Tebow in a cult hero kind of fashion at first, but his brand tired quickly as his play on the field suffered.  By the time he was shipped out and picked up by the Jets, he had become a punchline, not necessarily because of his faith but because he stunk as a quarterback.  The proportional amount of attention he got vs. his skill level was askew.  He wasn't very good, but ESPN was constantly pushing him.  It's not his fault.  As a pitchman or a broadcaster, Tebow's shown some acumen.  As a quarterback, his style fit the college game, and that's where it ended.

Tim Tebow was not the first Christian to play openly in the NFL and even express his faith openly.  Reggie White, an NFL superstar of another era, was famously a preacher.  It's not uncommon to hear a player thank God for the opportunity during postgame interviews after a good performance.  Prayer circles are common, and so are pregame prayers before taking the field.  It's not a big deal to be a Christian in the NFL or in sports at large.

It is, however, a big deal to be gay.

Michael Sam is not the first gay man to step on the NFL field.  Wade Davis, Kwame Harris, David Kopay, Ray McDonald, Roy Simmons, Jerry Smith, and Ezra Tuaolo all played and later either were outed or came out as gay.  Sam is the first to do it before his career started.  His cards are out there on the table.  He's not hiding.

Part of that is being gay in the open.  I have news for you out there in your 50's mentality.  There's a lot of change happening under your noses, and your children are being exposed to messages you have no control over every day on street corners, park benches, social media, mass media, and tons of other places.  Trying to shelter your children from the diverse world we are all community members of will not solve anything.  While you may not understand why two men or women kissing is the same as an opposite sex couple kissing, your kids haven't built that prejudice and filter yet.  Do the world a favor and back off.  Don 't pass that down.  Let the child make up his or her own mind.

Now, you are entitled to your opinions.  I am entitled to disagree with you, and that is one of the many things great about the society we live in.  Sometimes, our opinions carry consequences.  Those opinions outside the norm or the mainstream are often mocked and ridiculed.  In 2014, the attitude that gay people are fine as long as they can't be seen in public is going away.  It's being replaced with the reality that our society is diverse and free and open.  Michael Sam's kissing of his boyfriend is just an example.

When I came out, it was easy.  I didn't have to do it in public.  I got up the gumption to tell my RA at Indiana University that I was gay.  I first admitted it to myself in the mirror, and that was the toughest thing about the whole experience.  Since then, I can tell you that without a doubt my life is better outside of the closet than it ever was inside of it.

Robbing human beings of the ability to be who they are is way outside the legacy of our founding documents.  As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

If seeing Michael kiss Vito turns your stomach, I'm sorry.  You're going to feel sick a lot in the coming years.  This scene will be repeated and repeated and repeated because men like Sam had the guts to come out and show the world that gay people have the same hopes and dreams as straight people.  That includes the ability to one day love without persecution.


Anonymous said...

The difference between Tebow and Sam is that Tebow felt the need to convert others to his religion. Sam has simply revealed he is gay. If Tebow had simply said I am a Christian and left it at that, he would not have received the derision he did. I suspect tbe NFL career of Sam will exceed the career of Tebow.

johnnystir . said...

I disagree. I don't think Tebow tried to convert anyone. He was who he was. Something to be admired there, too.

Annette said...

Thank you Jon - this is a wonderful article! People are just going to have to accept that the world is changing. They can kick and scream but the LGBT community will not go back into the closet because some people are uncomfortable with two men or two women being together. They just need to get over it!