Michael Sam: The First Gay Gladiator

Welcome to a seminar on sexual orientation and the workplace…Let’s begin. I’ll spare you the agonizing b.s., but what if your workplace is a football field? Better yet, what if much of your workplace activity revolves around following and debating things that happen on a football field? Well then, chances are you know the name Michael Sam by today.

The Missouri graduate is eligible for the NFL draft this May and he is gay. Players are and have been gay while earning NFL paychecks but they never have entered or at any point in their career been open about their sexuality until now prospectively. The media seized the opportunity, and rightly so, to publicize this heroic announcement for Sam. The question quickly arose: How will this affect his draft stock? Unfortunately, that’s a valid question due to the culture of the sport in question but also the fanaticism attached to that culture.

The NFL is a physical game, a sport that glorifies toughness, strength, even anger. It is a sport of intimidation. Some might accurately call those primal characteristics, while others are fans of the sport because of this gladiator worship. But, this news story framed against the backdrop of the NFL’s image of brutality brings about a meaningful discussion of abhorrent stereotypes associated with homosexuality. Let’s examine a few

Gay men are weak: Michael Sam lead this SEC in sacks this past season at a position that demands physical strength.

Gay men are a locker room distraction: Why? Because once everyone hits the showers they are just going to rape the enitre locker room? This idea is homophobic, born out of fear by heterosexuals. Being homosexual is not equivalent to being a sexual predator. Get over yourselves straight men. What makes you think you’d even attract gay men?

Why does a gay athlete have to be open about his or her sexuality? This comes from a starting point of bigotry. The only reason this is news is because we are such an intolerant people and worship traditionalism even in the realm of sports which is such an asinine ideal that sports deserve some sort of sanctity. Michael Sam didn’t have to come out before he becomes an NFL player, but he felt it was important that he did so that there could be a shift in the NFL status quo which I find admirable.

Now, more importantly, consider the reverse of some of these stereotypes. Why is it assumed that masculine male athletes in the NFL are heterosexual? I think this is important because there is an association that develops. Masculinity=glorifying the gladiator mentality which is celebrated therefore gay men are excluded yet that assumes that we are to take gender cues and subsequently sexuality clues from this primitive idea of the male athlete (hero). This is a huge issue because we want our boys to play sports and compete and emulate their pro athlete role models but why must that encouragement be reinforced with the idea that this is the only way to be a man? Michael Sam is a gay football player. There are straight ballet dancers too but yet our associations tell us that those caricatures are to be gawked at. This comes from an unexplored place in our culture that has everything to do with gender when it doesn’t have to. Our love affair with the NFL has adverse affects when it comes to ideas about how the next generation of men should behave. This is extremely problematic and ignorant. You are not more or less of a man if you tackle other men, or if you have a “mean streak”, or if you play the piano, or tap dance. This big news about Michael Sam is big news because of our tendency to compartmentalize and stereotype but we often do not consider that this mistake permeates to subsequent generations who will do the same unless we teach them tolerance and openness when it pertains to gender and sexuality. The NFL is so mindless, the gladiator mentality so pointless and impractical, so why should we allow it to be so prominent in what we think a masculine man should be? Why do we strive to emulate that archetype? There were Michael Sams before and there will be more gay athletes and the way Michael Sam is accepted or rejected will have a lot to do with how comfortable those athletes are in sharing their true identities with the unforgiving sports world. We all should reflect on why it has taken this long and prioritize what is truly valuable if anything about the NFL while realizing that it’s reach extends further than we acknowledge it does.

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