Monday, May 12, 2014

Boys Kissing Boys on the Gridiron

Two admissions.
  1. I watched every single pick in the 2014 NFL draft. It was a bucket list item. I've become so enthralled with talent acquisitions, both in my career in Human Resources, as well as my second career as a sports video game General Manager. It was fun to follow along and strategize with the teams. I also got to compare the Bears draft to other drafts, minus the effluvia that the sports writers spew.
I don't know why I had the gut reaction that I did. In my lifetime on the north side of Chicago, I have seen many men kiss each other. I've kissed a few men myself, and enjoyed it. I understand that there are people who are sexually attracted to people of the same gender. I also understand that, for the rest of us who think that we're straight, sexuality is fluid. My crutch is that I'm not used to seeing it on tv. It's a very weak crutch.
No matter what team officials say, Michael Sam became the first SEC Defensive Player of the Year not to be selected in the first 2 rounds partially due to his decision to be brave, and live as an openly gay man. The NFL likes bravery, as long as it's between the white lines.
All of the draft "experts" on television and radio cite Sam's position (he was a pass rushing linebacker , or "tweener" in college), limited athletic ability, and inconsistent numbers sacking the quarterback as objective reasons why Sam was selected in the 7th Round. I have to admit, the experts almost had me until some guy from (insert Division II school in Minnesota) was drafted before Sam. Hell, the Bears drafted a punter in the 5th round.
Are you telling me that a straight punter is worth more than a gay defensive lineman...who played in the toughest conference in college football (the SEC)...and was the best defensive player in the toughest conference?
As brave as Michael Sam is for his revelations, he can't break the "macho man" veneer that the NFL has put over the imperfections (or rather reality) of their employee's private lives. We are naive to think that Michael Sam is the only gay player in the NFL. He's just the first to admit it. I don't know what Michael Sam hopes to accomplish with the podium that he now has, but if his hope was to help create an environment where gay athletes could be themselves, without repercussions, Mr. Sam got the same message that we all got from this weekend's selection meeting:
"It's okay to be gay in the NFL, just as long as you marry a woman while you're playing, and then come out once you retire."
Michael Sam's jersey is the 2nd highest selling jersey of all 2014 draftees, 2nd only to the draft's other darling Johnny Manziel. If it's one thing that the NFL knows, it's how to count money.

Change is always slow to come. Teams in multiple professional sports wouldn't draft or sign black players, until they realized that they were good and realized that, no matter what consumers say out loud, their money speaks louder.

The same will happen with Michael Sam and subsequent openly gay players in the NFL. Let the people on anonymous discussion boards and Twitter spew their hatred and vitriol. So far, the money says that the multi billion dollar LGBT consumer base is squarely behind Sam. I have no doubt in my mind that, when Sam adds his talents to an already fearsome defensive line in St. Louis, the very people that ostracized him will join in the cacophony of cheers.

So, back to my first question. Why was I so freaked out by Sam kissing his boyfriend on live television? I guess, deep down inside, I was jealous. Jealous that he was drafted by a NFL team, and jealous that he got to spend it with the person that he loves.

That's a me issue, not a Michael Sam issue.

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