In the 10 days since Michael Sam was the first openly gay player selected in the NFL Draft, I've noticed a small but persistent counter-narrative, best summed up by this opening paragraph by David Whitley in the Orlando Sentinel:
"It's heavenly to celebrate homosexuality, but you'll catch hell for celebrating Christianity."
The same line was also promoted by DeMarcus Walker, a Florida State linebacker, who tweeted this after Sam was drafted:
Y'all praise Michael Sam for being gay but y'all mocked Tim Tebow for being a Christian. Smh #Society— DeMarcus Walker (@livinglegend_44) May 11, 2014
The argument goes that Tim Tebow was persecuted and mocked for his Christian beliefs, while Michael Sam was universally praised for being gay. It is PC run amok, the critics say. Give me a break. It's hard to take this argument seriously, yet Whitley soldiers on in this vein, making all sorts of false equivalencies with Sam. For the record, I have not seen or heard Tebow say anything about this, so this is not about him as it is about those trying to score cheap points with shoddy arguments.
Tebow was mocked by some not for being a Christian, but for never missing a chance to proselytize, be it wearing "John 3:16" eye-black, dropping the Lord's name in every other sentence, hawking books or Tebowing. He was more Tim Tebow the Brand than Tim Tebow the Football Player. He had a legion of passionate supporters and that in turn created a blowback from people wondering why he was so special in a sports world dominated by Christians. This also had as much to do with whether Tebow was a good quarterback, which sparked its own debate, especially when he led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in 2011. There was no more polarizing player in the NFL that season.
Christians are not persecuted in the U.S. About three-quarters of all Americans identify as Christian and easily outnumber members of every other religion or no religion. NFL teams regularly have Christian prayer circles after games and praising God for a win is a staple of post-game commentary. Star quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are also very religious, yet they seem to never make it about them like Tebow has, so they escape the same scrutiny and criticism; it also helps that they are legitimate NFL quarterbacks, so no one is arguing whether they belong under center.
Michael Sam, in contrast, is not "promoting" being gay (and certainly isn't trying to "convert" anyone). It is his orientation and he simply is being honest about it. Since he is the first to do this in the NFL, it has justly led to a lot of praise and attention. What is there to criticize in that? And don't get me started on him kissing his boyfriend. The tally of me seeing straight athletes kiss their significant others vs. gay ones doing the same is still many thousands to 1.
And Sam is not above being criticized. He was hammered late last week by many columnists and NFL writers for his plan to have an Oprah Winfrey Network film crew follow him around. His doing that made his actions fair game and for a brief time -- until the show was postponed -- short-circuited the feel-good narrative. He did not get a pass simply because he is gay.
Tim Tebow is not in the NFL and that has nothing to do with his religion. If he could play, he'd be on a team. Now that he is drafted, Michael Sam is not guaranteed a spot because he's gay. He will also have to prove he can play. Tebow and Sam have that in common, not some ginned-up narrative about victimization and political correctness.