The people who are obfuscating, undercutting, and downplaying the announcement that soon to be NFL defensive lineman Michael Sam is gay should stop.
Let me first say that I am what is known in the LGBT community as an "ally." This means that I cannot fully comprehend the struggle of the people whose cause I support but that I do everything I can to try. Conversely, there are those who simply cannot accept Sam's sexuality and they have every right to voice their opinion but this is not directed at those individuals.
This is for those who would claim to be pro-gay, or at least not anti-gay, who have been flooding the internet and the airwaves lately with remarks questioning why we should care, why this is such a big deal to anyone including the media, and -- most importantly -- why Michael Sam even had to announce his sexuality to begin with.
"Straight people never come out and announce they are straight!"
Yes they do. They do it all the time. They do it in music and on television and when they are talking about last night or next weekend. They do it in incessant overreactions to attractive people of the opposite sex that drive them to do anything from buy crap they don't need to listen to terrible music and joke "I put it on mute and just watch her videos."
Some straight people are so constantly reminding you how straight they are that it makes you wonder. Yet many others proclaim their straightness in a patently gross and coarse fashion using explicit sexual detail whether anyone asked for it or not. This is pretty common in locker rooms.
So what exactly is this safe and "comfortable" environment that players like Jonathan Vilma are worried about being destroyed by the presence of a gay player? This is a perfect example of how normative behavior can allow privileged people to not realize the way people-who-are-not-them feel about the situation they are in. You can be the loudest, nastiest, most bigoted misogynist ever and not be made to feel uncomfortable in a locker room because you get to be who you are without realizing what your behavior forces others to hide.
Skipping past how much of an egomaniac it takes to think a gay player won't be able to keep his eyes or hands off of you (hint: being a massive homophobe isn't really a turn-on to the gays) the notion that the "predatory gay" is any more real or dangerous than the "predatory straight" is absurd to the point of being laughable especially considering all of the problems the NFL has with domestic violence and sexual assault. Y'know the straight and okay kind.
The "predatory gay" is a myth straight people tell themselves to feel better about their homophobia.
(Side note: It's really disgusting how women are treated as objects, especially in machismo sports culture, and the moment it seems like someone, might maybe treat a straight man the way straight men have been treating women for years, they go ballistic. Try this exercise straight guys: see how long you can only talk to women you don't know in a manner that you would be comfortable having a gay man talk to you.)
Just because you treat women a certain way doesn't mean that's how gay men want to treat you.
There has also been a smattering of "this will create a distraction" stories circulating Michael Sam's announcement. Putting aside that this is the same absurdist tract that surrounded the debate around integrating the military, I find that the people voicing concerns about "distractions" are almost always the ones creating them.
The Broncos went to the playoffs and won a game during Tebow-mania, the Seahawks Superbowl performance didn't seem to be hindered by Richard Sherman's "distraction," the Eagles made the playoffs for the first time in years after Riley-Cooper-n-word gate, and Sam's team played just fine last season. If there are any ill-effects because of a media swarm or because some of his teammates won't accept him, the blame rests firmly on their shoulders and not at all on Sam's.
When Chris Broussard made his infamous comments about not accepting homosexuality on ESPN after Jason Collins came out he would end his arguments by saying something along the lines of "but don't call me a bigot. I have a right to my opinion." Yes you do, and I have the right to mine, which is that you have a bigoted belief. The same first amendment that protects your right to say bigoted things protects my right to point it out.
But saying essentially "I believe this person's behavior damned them to hell for eternity...but please don't call me a name, that's going too far and is unfair," is privileged hypocrisy of the highest order.
We need to be careful about conflating bigoted behavior and even bigoted beliefs with a person being a bigot but Vilma, Broussard and others do need to be called out and even ostracized for saying things like this because that is how we get better.
We still have a long way to go for racial equality in this country but one of the biggest differences you can find between now and the "civil rights" era is that now nobody wants to be called a racist. We made it clear that as a society will shun racism in any form. We will know we've made great progress when we make being homophobic as unacceptable as being racist. It won't solve the root of either problem but it will strip it of a great deal of its power.
When we hear these stories of people coming out there is usually someone in the picture who says, "Yeah, I knew already." How? Because announcing one is straight in one way or another is so prevalent that it becomes obvious when certain people don't participate.
This forces gay people to either hide who they are until they are outed via general awareness or having to outright lie. And that is why it's important that Michael Sam came out and why we all need to keep talking about it as a good thing. Because no person, and especially no child, should be forced to pick between those two options.
I share the sentiment behind remarks like "it will be better when this isn't even a story." But that doesn't mean that this shouldn't be a time for celebration. Brushing this announcement off like "we are past this" is silly especially considering the news that came out about the reaction of Sam's father and everything that has been going on with the Olympics and Russia. Many of us are past this being an issue but many others, especially in power, aren't even close.
We forget sometimes that people like Michael Sam don't just serve as positive role models to young people in the United States which is becoming more and more open about sexuality but also stand up as shining examples to the whole world which still has a long, long way to go in this area.
If you legitimately have no problem with Michael Sam's sexuality (or anyone else's for that matter) this announcement should fill you with joy and not be in the least bit an annoyance.
If, on the other hand, your reaction to all of this is still, "yeah, I'm okay with it, I just don't want to hear about it," then I am forced to conclude either:
1. You have a lack of understanding of how much this means to some and about how difficult it can be to be gay in modern society, especially in the machismo world of sports and even more especially in professional football.
2. You are hiding behind that rhetoric because you are uncomfortable with homosexuality but you don't want to be seen as homophobic.
3. You just like to rain on other people's parades. Their super fabulous parades. (But seriously, if it really isn't a big deal and you really don't care, why say anything at all? What harm comes by letting others have their celebration?)
This wouldn't be as big a story if Michael Sam was a skinny white relief pitcher, or even if he was Jason Collins, an aging NBA player well past his prime. Some (Jason Whitlock on Olberman) have argued that this trail has already been blazed by Britney Griner, or a number of openly gay politicians and celebrities. But this fails to realize that those people have nowhere near the impact on the American psyche that football does. Not even close.
If Barney Frank could get after the quarterback maybe we could talk. Otherwise, it is easy to ignore those people as outliers. You can dismiss a politician or a celebrity pretty easily, but this is America dammit, and we practically breathe football. It will be close to impossible to ignore and dismiss Michael Sam when he is sacking your quarterback. Whether people like it or not, because it's the NFL, he is a part of all of our lives now.
Sam breaks down so many barriers and so many insulated beliefs in one body that it's staggering. The fact that he can champion this cause for millions by being beamed into living rooms across America during TV events that have become religious experiences for some means that Sam has a unique ability and opportunity to change people's minds and warm people's hearts just by being who he is and doing what he does.
When "the other" becomes one of your guys, plays like a beast, and helps you win games, he becomes less scary. When he proves on a daily basis that he is a tough-guy and a professional, a bright light will be shown on ignorance and it will be forced to retreat to the shadows.
That is why it's important that Michael Sam announced he was gay. Ignorance and insulation breed hatred while openness and honesty breed acceptance and understanding.
And that is why it is important that all who are not hostile to Sam stand up proudly and loudly voice their support.
There are countries on this planet where being gay is punishable by death and Michael Sam is living proof that this is insanity. He is living proof that there is nothing inherent in gayness that makes you any less of a man. This should be what America stands for; not our might to control the world through massive military presence and threats of destruction, but for our ability to lead the world by our examples of being more accepting, more loving, and more free.
Drew Creasman (DC) is a staff writer at SBNation Colorado Rockies affiliate Purple Row and is newly a staff writer at NBA site Baller Mind Frame. He also works as a musician (singer/songwriter) in Boulder and Denver.