“Not everybody was prepared to see two athletes kissing on TV. And it wasn’t only the kissing that rocked America. It was the gentle stroking of Sam’s bicep, the hand holding, the embrace”
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Like many NFL fans I was tuned in to ESPN late Saturday afternoon as the network covered the final rounds of the NFL draft and like many Americans I was intrigued to learn whether or not Michael Sam would be selected. I had my doubts. After having witnessed “Tebowmania” in Denver I wasn’t sure that any organization wished to invite the media scrum that will inevitably follow the league’s first openly gay player.
Most pundits agreed that Sam should be a late-round selection based on merit but that whichever team selected him would be subject to “distractions”. The Saint Louis Rams boldly drafted Sam in the seventh round. While it can be argued that the team stole the linebacker there’s little doubt that that the coaching staff will be faced with challenges.
Sam is unabashedly gay.
The television moment that took place when ESPN’s cameras caught him weeping and kissing his boyfriend after learning that he had been drafted was one that changed America forever. It was jarring; not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sometimes as a society we have be taken forcibly out of our comfort zone.
Not everybody was prepared to see two athletes kissing on TV. And it wasn’t only the kissing that rocked America. It was the gentle stroking of Sam’s bicep, the hand holding, the embrace … the love that Sam and his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano clearly share. It’s one thing for America to be confronted with the idea of homosexuality. It’s another to be exposed to gay love and to acknowledge that’s it’s no different than straight love, that the two men we saw on our TV screens provide to one another the same kind of comfort and support that men and women traditionally do.
Sam’s moment was no show of defiance, no pride parade. It wasn’t his way of making a stand. It was just a demonstration of raw emotion. Michael and Vito didn’t play to the camera any more than any other young couple thrilled about a selection. But this was two males celebrating, not the prototypical jock and his trophy girlfriend. America has witnessed their embrace a million times. This time we were given a window into a part of our culture that is gradually beginning to emerge. The hope is that pioneers like Michael Sam help it to come into the light peacefully.
Seeing Michael and Vito kiss did not make me uncomfortable in the least. But it did make me say “oh, shit”. I immediately knew that the reaction would not be universally positive. Our society is evolving when it comes to acceptance of all kinds of lifestyles but “the kiss” was a revolutionary thing. If America’s understanding of homosexuality has been an ice cube slowly melting on a countertop the ESPN video was an enormous ice shelf breaking from a glacier and crashing into the ocean. It was seismic.
It’s difficult to fault people for having trouble making adjustments on the fly to living in the America Michael Sam’s kiss signifies. It’s not necessarily bigoted or homophobic to have been rattled by the scene. It’s not something every American had been previously exposed to. I’m not excusing people who have said hateful things or wondered allowed “what should I say to my kids”. Those people have a lot of catching up to do. But I can give a wide berth to people who weren’t quite ready.
America is a massive tanker. It can’t always turn on a dime. While it has been slowly pointing its nose in a new direction it will take time to put it on entirely new course. Moments like “the kiss” at once promote unity and excite digression. They bring us together and set us apart. It’s important that those of us who understand and accept a football player’s love for another man help, not hinder our nation’s understanding of equality.
By lashing out against people whose reactions to Michael Sam’s big moment were negative we do more harm than good when it comes to promoting unity. We should find the fortitude to help them understand that gay love existed long before Saturday. We should help them learn. Yes, there are some people who will bury their head in a Bible and refuse to grow as human beings. There’s nothing that can be done for them. Their ignorance is inbred. But there are those in our culture than can be brought along for the ride.
We can start with our own children. There’s nothing about “the kiss” that is horribly pornographic that we can’t use it to help kids understand that all love is equal. We should not be any less comfortable sharing it with them that we would be a kiss between AJ McCarron and Katherine Webb. Our kids have the opportunity not to be thrown for a loop by the image of two men kissing on TV the way so many of us were on Saturday.