As Michael Sam’s place in history is assured, our handling of it is not so reassuring


A half-century from now when a period piece comes out chronicling life in the insular mid-teens by some third- or fourth-generation Coppola (working title: When Nobody Gave a Fuckica), an individual’s sexuality as a touchstone will be lampooned front and center; a showcase of extravagance and a fixation on private lives as reflection of outdated cultural and social norms.

Time wasted in front of screens worrying what we perceive others think of us when in fact the real conceit is nobody is thinking anything about anyone but themselves. The paucity of real connection created a generation of fractured factions and mountains of information tantamount to nothing.

A people so insular their perceived wisdom is codified in an unwillingness to bend from a stated position — either side.

Whether the protagonist ends up on the right side of history is the sidebar. All the stuff that goes with it, that’s the story of today. Just stuff.


…Bereft of hindsight, or at least a lens with which to filter the vulgar and violent underpinnings of now when it comes to acceptance of what one does behind closed doors with a partner of his or her choice, we instead are given a strangely correct or seemingly correct-in-tone apologias along with a proclamation that history and a man, a gay man, an athlete, a gay athlete, shared a dance Saturday.

It as if ESPN and its verticals/NBC/CNNSI/NYT …even the New Yorker could not wait to fawn over the braveness of one seventh-round pick in Michael Sam yesterday as he was selected to join the National Football League. The apotheosis of four months of speculation as to what the future would hold in a league of discriminating — in every sense of the word — gentlemen and the annual day their new charges are hand-plucked.

There were fleeting moments of endearment. Instead of blinding diamonds from an $80k watch, we got to witness actual tears of joy stream down the defensive end’s face during the transaction as he held the line with his new coach, the mustachioed sideline stalker Jeff Fisher.

Sam hung up and, still on camera, embraced and planted one on his boyfriend (The yes!!! The galvanizing or tent pole moment of act two), who was cute as a Baby Gap model looking all wide-eyed and late for a Starbucks interview in matching polo. Sam also, should he avoid getting cut, gets to stay to play football in his home state — Mr. All-Time Relevance just five picks shy of being Mr. Irrelevant.

Sam’s story is between two people: He and his current partner.

As simple consumers of information in a simple time, we made his story our own. We still have trouble recognizing LGBT is just like you and me, except they’re better at gentrifying neighborhoods, know how to vacation right and are seriously less sartorially challenged than your average jersey and jorts-wearing NFL fan. All good things in 2014. Arcane, untidy and an unsustainable stereotype as seen from tomorrow’s vantage point. Hidden mores and curious attitudes about going to bed with someone of the same gender an Edsel joke in waiting.

The way we overreact now showcases the extent of our future obsolescence. During ESPN’s continuing coverage of Sam’s selection, there was a convenient (gay) sports bar cutaway showing the men of Pride Week central casting clad in Starburst-colored tank tops; one even wearing flowers in his hair leftover from Coachella. All cheering like no Buffalo Wild Wings has ever seen.

Predictably, the NFL is already capitalizing on its new enlightened self. Sam’s jersey (hot off the press) already hit the rack at the NFL Shop surely to please the new demo of gay jocks purportedly fiending to cheer on one of their own at HiTops.

Sam came out to his teammates at Missouri last season. The team and school in the heart of the heartland embraced him. He was seen as a playmaker on the field and a leader off it. He won defensive player of the year accolades in the SEC, what is now and will always be one of the toughest if not most redneck divisions in all of sport (at least history will remain consistent with the current day on that level — the steadfastness of the South).

The St. Louis Rams, a franchise with a propensity to take chances on homegrown talent, is deep at Sam’s position which led even leading pundits to further showcase unintended bigotry voicing division rivals San Francisco or Seattle might have been more embracing metros for the NFL’s first openly gay athlete. So it is good that narrative was quashed and Sam gets to stay home and show the rest of the country every part of this nation can embrace an openly gay athlete. A laughable plot twist in five decades. Very much the dialogue of now.

Michael Sam is not Jackie Robinson emerging from the dugout in ’45. He is not Jessie Owens at the Berlin Games or Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand at the ’68 Olympics. He is not Hank Aaron rounding the bases with an impromptu pair of jive turkey escorts as he bested the Babe. He is not Cassius becoming Muhammad or Lou becoming Kareem. He is not even Tiger in ’97 taming Augusta and putting on the green jacket at the club that only started to allow blacks that same decade.

Those events did not stack up to their merits now when they happened either. Not close. There is no triumphant soundtrack or montage when life is actually happening; no slow motion when perception shifts.

Right now the statistics are still laughable. Fewer than fifty percent of the residents of Missouri approved of gay marriage on the day Sam was drafted, showing the nation, or at least the region that raised him, is currently in a Half Nelson courtesy the contorted views of those brazen enough to call themselves Christian whose fear-based doctrine is rooted in hate, greed and self-loathing.

In real life, Sam will wage a silent battle against these folks just outside the hermetically controlled confines of his locker room.

The folks who make his life difficult in real time, and there will be many, are venerable opponents who will one day be portrayed as buffoons transparent as their agenda.

But that doesn’t make them any easier to reason with in the present. Six years in, a not-so-silent minority still do not want a black man in the White House. They cannot tolerate seeing two guys kissing or showing true affection on prime time. And, as decrepit Clippers owner Donald Sterling brought to light recently with decades of bad behavior garnished by a cherry of a recorded call, a dearth of tolerance at the top is still dyed deep in our American fabric.

When the camera lights are off and the coaches and trainers and staff and teammates and fans are in the comfort of their own living rooms, you can bet Sam’s present-day presence in professional sport is debated, questioned and criticized — regardless of his performance to come.

That is just where we are now. A country of the free but only free within the context of someone else’s definition. Commentary that must overcompensate to make up for the money and the decision-making power here that is still very much with the old, straight (questionable) and mostly pale guard. Those miserable-looking men melting into the floorboards of their owner’s suites as they look upon blank-minded constituents won’t go away quietly or soon. Vitriol and contempt has a way of acting like formaldehyde — preserving the rich corpse in his funeral suit for another game day.

Yes, they are the real villains. They say the right things about Sam but they sure as hell don’t mean ’em. And that is the true danger of today.

The media grab at the Michael Sam pick, even the well-intentioned, represents a time that has already passed. It is something we should accept because nobody seems to be looking to change it. That acceptance also means we are willing recipients of the backlash to come.