The stigma of homosexuality in sports
After joining the Brooklyn Dodgers In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the barriers of racism and discrimination as he stepped onto Ebbets Field, becoming the first African American athlete to play for a professional North American sports franchise. Before then, it was unheard of for an African American player to join an all-white league. After breaking those boundaries, Robinson went on to face a mountain of criticism and scrutiny for refusing to bow to a world so keen on knocking him down. For all of his efforts, Robinson paved the way for athletes such as Ernie Davis, the first African American Heisman trophy winner, to make their mark on sports history.
Now, an athlete of a new generation has emerged, ready to face his own share of skeptics and doubters.
Michael Sam, a former football player for the Missouri Tigers of the NCAA, recently came out. Since his announcement, a firestorm of debate and discussion has been unleashed within the media as to whether major sports are ready for an openly gay athlete to play for a professional sports franchise.
Players around the National Football League were quick to respond to Sam's announcement, showering Sam with praise for what they feel was an act of great courage and heroism.
Others were not quite as comfortable with the idea of sharing the locker room with a gay man.
“Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?" said former NFL linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, Jonathan Vilma, in an interview with the NFL network.
Influential lobbyist, Jack Burkman has gone as far as crossing legislative borders, proposing a ban against gay players in the NFL.
“We are losing our decency as a nation,” Burkman said in a statement. “Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?”
To answer Vilma's question, you just keep on showering. Homosexuality is not a drug, disease, nor a choice.
So Vilma can share a locker room with a coach who paid his players to purposely hurt and injure opponents but he cannot comprehend what to do if a gay man looks his way?
Perhaps it would be less fearful if MIchael Sam was wielding a gun or carried a contagious disease; anything other than being gay right?
As far as Burkman's question goes, the world has come to a state where having an athlete with the "wrong" sexual orientation playing in a major league is an abomination. But an arrogant pop star who gets pulled over on a DUI, resists arrest, and then shows no remorse whatsoever, is deemed "misguided."
A gay man is far and away from the worst kind of person that's ever played in a major sport. Heavens forbid a gay man join the NFL, you know, with all the exceptional human beings the league already carries.
John Stewart said it best.
"No team wants the controversy that having a gay player would cause," he said on a segment of the Daily Show. "If he had just been accused of DUI vehicular manslaughter, or obstruction of justice in connection with a murder, or had been accused of sexual assault, or screamed the n-word at a concert or killed a bunch of dogs and buried them in his [expletive] yard, you know, NFL material."
The players who own those claims which involve, Donte Stallworth, Ray Lewis, Ben Roesthlisberger, Riley Cooper, and Michael VIck, have all been welcomed back by the NFL with open arms. With these athletes on the loose, only someone as naive and just plain stupid as Burkman can believe that a gay man is more of a monstrosity than some of society's other products. It is unfortunate that Sam's sexuality has become more important than what he can actually do on the field. That being said, in the society we live in, it's to be expected.
"It's definitely not fair," said Gifford Lindheim, head coach of the Santa Monica College football team. "However, he bears the responsibility and the scrutiny that always falls to those who break boundaries."
To Sam's credit, Lindheim feels he has done an incredible job in handling the doubters. Lindheim feels more than comfortable with the idea of a gay athlete on any of SMC's sports teams, feeling that his team has created an accepting culture and would respond in a positive way.
Fortunately for Sam, he is not alone in his battle against prejudice. Before the NFL prospect made his announcement, Jason Collins of the NBA had already opened up about his homosexuality and has since become the first openly gay athlete to play for a professional North American sports franchise.
After Collins, Darren Young of World Wrestling Entertainment shocked the wresting world with the sudden announcement about his homosexuality.
Collins's and Young's revelations, like Sam's, were met with a fair share of approval and disapproval.
The difference between Sam and Collins however, is that while Collins is nearing the end of his career, Sam is only in the beginning. Still, most of society has shown acceptance of Collins. He currently signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets and even his jersey became the top seller on the National Basketball Association's website last Tuesday.
Although not everyone is ready to accept an openly gay player into a major professional sports league, the NCAA as well as the NFL and NBA have proven that the future is bright.
It is yet to be seen whether Michael Sam can become as powerful a symbol as Robinson has been. However, the courage and professionalism that Sam and Collins have displayed is more than one can say for people like Vilma and Burkman.
It is now or never for the NFL and other sports organizations to accept openly gay athletes into their ranks. But it requires individuals like Sam and Collins to take the necessary steps and keep the world moving in a more accepting direction.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."