Ethics Note To The Sports Media Regarding Their Coverage of Michael Sam: SHUT UP!

Sam

Ever since University of Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam made the announcement that he is gay, sports writers, broadcasters and columnists have been hailing his courage, bashing his detractors, and pointing with derision to the portion of social media buzz that has revealed the nation’s ugly homophobic side. The irony is that it is the mostly positive media obsession with Sam’s status as a potential trailblazer, rather than the antigay hate-mongers, who diminish Sam’s chances of success with their every word. This is obvious, or should be, yet the articles and rants keep on coming. I have to believe that it is a case of sports journalists engaging in the ultimate hypocrisy, making themselves look fair, unbigoted and devoted to the cause of full gay inclusion in American life (all while making their deadlines) while simultaneously and knowingly undermining the athlete they claim to be supporting. They have to shut up, or Sam is doomed.

Which means, unfortunately, that Sam is doomed….and that means that this episode, rather than advancing the cause of gay athletes, will be a serious setback for them instead.

Before his announcement, Sam was projected as a third to fifth round NFL draft choice as a defensive end. That means that he was not going to be an NFL “star.” even if everything worked out for the best. Third to fifth round NFL draft choices are virtually never NFL stars. Defensive ends are seldom NFL stars: ask one of your friends who claims to be a big football fan to name two NFL defensive ends who don’t play for his or her own favorite team. Here: who’s this?

Robert Mathis

He’s a 2014 Pro Bowl defensive end. Is he a star? Can you identify him by name or by team?* Probably not, and yet Sam, who has not played a single game in the NFL, has not made a roster cut and who has not even been drafted of signed, is being identified in the news media as a “future first gay NFL star.” Every time “gay” is appended to Sam’s name in the media, his opportunities of having a successful NFL career, never mind being a “star,’ are degraded. In the NFL, only your football performance on the playing field will make you a star, not what you are or do off of it.

Football teams want to win and make money. They do not, and I mean none of them, care about making social statements or advancing human rights agendas, nor should they; it’s not what they exist to do. With every self-righteous article about how Sam is a test for the NFL, how the world will be watching, about how this is a defining moment for the sport and the nation, Sam’s utility for those prime directives, win and profit, the goals that matter in professional sport, the objectives that most football fans care about, retreats, along with his value and earning ability. Here’s Sally Jenkins, Washington Post columnist, ratcheting up the pressure:

“He is a walking character test for the NFL and he will put that test to everyone he comes into contact with. He’s going to challenge the locker room norm, going to challenge NFL executive myopia and challenge NFL players’ homophobia. We will find out who the modern Branch Rickeys are. Which players will act more Pee Wee Reese and put an arm around him, and which will show their Dixie Walker side and demand to be traded rather than play alongside a gay man? Which team officials will be so lacking in character that they pass on him despite a legitimate need at defensive end?”

If I am a general manager for an NFL team, this will prompt me to think: “Yeah, that will be interesting, all right…on another team. I’m pretty sure I can find myself another third to firth round-worthy defensive end to draft who will NOT make my team ground zero for non-sports media attention, and every personnel decision involving its one openly gay player fodder for a debate on ESPN.” Indeed, I think that any general manager who does not think this way isn’t doing his job properly.

Win games and make money.

Not “strike a blow for gay rights.”

Michael Sam is not football’s gay Jackie Robinson, as I must have read 40 times in the last week. In 1947, there were no black players in baseball, and every team knew that there were plenty of good to great black players just waiting for a chance to help major league teams win games. Branch Rickey was a smart and brave man, but he didn’t recruit Robinson to win a Nobel Prize: he did it to improve his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. And he knew that the first black player (see, there was no way to be the first “openly black” player) had to be a great one, not only because his success of the field would disprove the racist fools who argued, against all logic and evidence, that blacks were inferior to whites as players, but also because only the positive impact of such a player’s contribution to winning games would out-balance the negative impact the distraction caused by the media circus following the player’s every move would have in making it harder to win games. High level professional sports require focus. Distractions destroy focus, and hurt performance. If a player causes more distraction than his talents justify, no team will want him, and no team should want him

Michael Sam isn’t the gay Jackie Robinson. He’s the gay Tim Tebow, the short-time star quarterback whose flamboyant religiosity outshined his football skills. He’s a broadcaster now. There are other devout players, but only Tebow’s religious behavior attracted so much media and public attention that it became a distraction. Tebow, thanks to a media obsession with him, became an NFL freak, and the NFL doesn’t want freaks. There are other gay players in the NFL, too. Unlike the case with black players after World War II, Sam is not going to open the door to more gay talent and more fans (surprisingly, gay Americans are not considered a prime growth market for professional sports).

Sam is going to have enough problems trying to just play football without having news media obsessions with his sex life constantly intruding on every aspect of his career. Will he face hostility in the locker room? I wouldn’t bet against it: read the NFL’s report on the ugly bullying scandal involving the Miami Dolphins Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Incognito is undoubtedly among the worst of the worst, but he’s probably closer to the norm than most football fans would like to believe. Will a substantial number of football fans be ready to blame Sam’s sexuality for every missed tackle? Well, pro football is the most popular sport in the U.S., it is hardly blindfold chess, and a substantial proportion of the public are ignorant morons—what do you think is the likely outcome? Many physicians believe the stress of being a trailblazer helped kill Jackie Robinson, who aged prematurely and died of diabetes; several of the other early black players who followed Robinson found the pressure too great, and never played up to expectations. The media is doing everything in its power to place similar burdens on Sam.

There is one way, and one way only, that Michael Sam will be able to have a positive affect on NFL and U.S. culture, and that is if his sexual orientation is allowed to fade into the background and be invisible….which it should be. (Jackie Robinson, in contrast, couldn’t avoid standing out.)  He doesn’t need every columnist to show their virtue and sensitivity by writing columns like Jenkins’s. He doesn’t need  websites pouncing on every instance of his behaving like gay men have every right to behave, like Mediaite and other sites publicizing this.  He doesn’t needs TV rants like the one delivered by Texas sports anchor Dale Hanson and cheered by right-thinking, virtuous non-football fans everywhere:

“You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they’re welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We’re comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!”

Yes, and about that, Dale—how many rants did you deliver condemning the domestic abusers and drug users and killers before they were drafted? If the teams signing such players believed that they would receive viral, around-the-clock coverage in every game they played for an indefinite time span, like you and your colleagues will be devoting to Sam’s benign sexual orientation, they might well have had second thoughts about drafting those players too. Not to mention the fact that comparing being gay to murder, drug use and assault is not exactly a ringing defense: See #20 on the Ethics Alarms Rationalization Scale, Comparative Virtue, or “It’s not the worst thing.”

No, what Michael Sam needs and deserves is for everyone to stop writing and ranting about how earthshaking the fact that he is gay will be, and just let him be a football player, judged like every other football player, by his ability to help win games. He needs the sports media to shut up.

They won’t, though.

That is why, tragically, he is doomed.

*That’s Robert Mathis, of the Indianapolis Colts

__________________

Pointer: Alexander Cheezem

Sources: Huffington Post, Mediaite, Washington Post

Graphic: CNN

22 thoughts on “Ethics Note To The Sports Media Regarding Their Coverage of Michael Sam: SHUT UP!

  1. Nope. The idiot thought it was a great idea telling everyone he was gay (again I tell you, he did it as a ploy, not out of “bravery”), and if he didn’t think this is what would happen, then he is epicly stupid.

    He is a walking character test for the NFL and he will put that test to everyone he comes into contact with.

    And with that, every single rational owner who was looking to sign a defensive lineman went and started looking elsewhere, because what they heard was “You will never be able to deny this man anything, because if you ever tell him ‘no’ for any reason we will all assume that it is because you don’t like gay people. You will have to pay him more than he is worth, and put up with more bullshit.”

    Will a substantial number of football fans be ready to blame Sam’s sexuality for every missed tackle?

    OK, first off, fuck you. Will you be ready to blame every penalty flag on homophobia? Will every holding call be proof that they do not tolerate gays in the NFL?

    Because the number of people who will do that is larger than the people who will make accusations of “he can’t tackle because he’s one of them queeeeeeers”.

    He needs the sports media to shut up.

    Yeah, how dare they write about something he said that he didn’t actually have to say. What jerks.

    • The point isn’t that the media owe him some duty to help him out. He has made his bed by coming out and he’ll have to lie in it, for better for worse. On the “it’s a ploy” front, I prefer to wait and see- until HE blames something on anti-gay sentiment, then the generous and straightforward assumption is that he was just being honest about who he is. If/when he does so, then go ahead and call it a ploy all you want. Besides, when would you feel was an “acceptable” time for him to come out? If he waited til after he was drafted, one could accuse him of hiding it until he was hired by a team. If he waited til he was established, he could be accused of using it as leverage to avoid being fired, traded, etc.

      The problem is the media taking on the role, not just of equalizer, but of dictator of emotion. Responsible sports reporting that focused on sports wouldn’t have killed the controversy but it wouldn’t have added a steady stream of fuel to it, whipping everyone up into either self-righteous fervor on his behalf or disgust at the “gay-pushing” media that leads to hating him.

    • He did have to say it, arguably, because the rumors were out there, and they might have sunk him anyway. This way, he felt he had a fighting chance, or if he didn’t succeed in the NFL, he could forge a different career as a gay athlete martyr, or something. I don’t know what his smartest move would be, but I do know that the sports media is making him radioactive.

      • “Will a substantial number of football fans be ready to blame Sam’s sexuality for every missed tackle?”

        OK, first off, fuck you. Will you be ready to blame every penalty flag on homophobia? Will every holding call be proof that they do not tolerate gays in the NFL?

        Where did that come from? The answer to your stupid question is “no, of course not;” the answer to my easy question with an obvious answer is “Sure—read Twitter.” You want to really argue that fans who paint themselves blue, go shirtless in freezing weather and speak in monosyllables (not to deal in stereotypes or anything) won’t assume that a gay player is a de facto sissy? Or that he won’t have a giant target on his back for every other team’s Richie Incognito?

        There was no need, maybe, for him to come out, but there shouldn’t be a need for him not to, either. That’s his point. Unfortunately, there is said need, because so many people are reacting the way you are, impugning him for being candid about what should be trivial.

        Sam’s announcing that he is gay should be allowed to have exactly as much attention and significance as if he announced that he is part Greek, is missing his appendix, or likes playing Stratego, because that’s how much it has to do with playing football.

        • You want to really argue that fans who paint themselves blue, go shirtless in freezing weather and speak in monosyllables (not to deal in stereotypes or anything) won’t assume that a gay player is a de facto sissy?

          They call everyone who sucks at tackling a sissy, just like they call every QB who throws an interception a fucking moron – fuck up at your job, and you get called names.

          Or that he won’t have a giant target on his back for every other team’s Richie Incognito?

          As I said the first time around, every instance of hazing that every other rookie gets will, in his case, be proof of homophobia. I will lay money on it.

          because so many people are reacting the way you are, impugning him for being candid about what should be trivial.

          Yeah, “I don’t give a fuck, shut your nommer” is just so mean. If only I would say how brave he was by talking about something he isn’t required to talk about. I impugn him because every other athlete that has used this ploy has done so because they were on the way out and used it as a cudgel to try and force something. It didn’t work for them, and frankly I hope it doesn’t work for this guy either.

          Sam’s announcing that he is gay should be allowed to have exactly as much attention and significance as if he announced that he is part Greek, is missing his appendix, or likes playing Stratego, because that’s how much it has to do with playing football.

          Then there was no reason for him to walk up to a reporter and tell them he likes dudes. At best – at best – telling whatever he might have been signed to (and I still say it is unlikely he would have been signed) would have been ok, but the entire Western World didn’t need to know, and the fact that he thought it did speaks as to what he finds to be most important – playing football, or making a statement.

          Holding the latter ahead of the former should be a warning flag to anyone looking of a defensive lineman.

          • Actually, what he did was much more ethical than telling a team after he was signed, which was his original plan. Candor is never unethical, no matter how you spin it. Lack of candor is. Delayed candor is.

            • I remember something I heard my father say about fifty years ago, “What CONCENTING ADULTS do in PRIVATE is no one else’s business”.

              With this in mind, I have come to believe that anyone’s sex life or orientation is only between them and their partner, and the best way to keep it private is to not talk about it and to not have multiple partners.

              So Michael Sam should not have talked to the media, as his being gay should be of no concern to anyone else.

        • This is a textbook example of blaming the victim. Saying “I am gay” is not an invitation to be abused. Ah, but he should know he’ll be abused? If he dressed up like RuPaul, you might have a point. He said he’s gay. The response he should be able to depend on is “who cares?” and “so what?” If he hadn’t said it, that video of him dancing topless would have been a “scandal.” Why should he be forced to play don’t ask don’t tell, just because sports reporters are jerks?

  2. The big thing, I think, isn’t that the media is hurting him by trying to help- it’s that they don’t give a shit about him at all. Righteous indignation and support of him is a way to fill column inches, create controversy, and generate page views- all while pushing a progressive point (basic level: gay = OK. Advanced level: gay = good. Pro level: gay = so good that if you do anything that is bad for a gay person you’re a homophobe).

    Whether flogging their narrative would help him, hurt him, or nothing at all, they’d flog it- his outcome is essentially irrelevant to their need to produce material NOW.

    As it stands, they actually have the most to gain by furiously demanding his success while praying for his failure. For all the reasons you stated, they are making him less likely to succeed. If he succeeds, their remaining stories to write about him will be an occasional retrospective or controversy about him getting penalized or hazed and wondering if it’s because he’s gay. If he fails now, they can keep making hay for a good long time about how bigoted and horrible the NFL is.

  3. I found the name of Robert Mathis simply by dragging my mouse pointer over the image and seeing the web address (with his name in it) pop up. (I have been struggling all morning with my inferiority complex stemming from my ignorance about modern media how-to basics for users.)

    Seriously Jack, thanks for posting about this. I say that in sincerity, being one example of how even “out-and-proud” homophobes like me can “get it” (as I have, for about 25 years). I don’t pity Michael Sam so much for what he says he prefers to do sexually, as for his having no choice but to suffer so much unfairness that he does not deserve. It’s as if he has been stripped and forced to wear some fabrication of the wishfully thinking, a gaudy cloak of The Brave Pioneer. And in fairness to homophobes, I don’t think you can even blame homophobes for that unfairness. It’s been inflicted on Sam through the zeal of others to validate their own beliefs, no matter what.

    I ask this next, not out of some sneaky reason to be snarky: Isn’t it possible that Sam could yet become an NFL star, in another position? Without knowing all about his skillsets, it seems at least possible that he could transition to (and again, don’t read into this what you might, if you’re a ready-to-pounce, anti-homophobic Samuel L. Jackson type) tight end. He seems about the right size; he has played defense, so moving him to offense would afford him a chance to beat that which he has already known well; he is obviously unafraid of engaging in the most jarring collisions.

    I might not understand or be as approving of Michael Sam’s stated, intended sexual conduct as much as the current prevailing “leadership” of culture seems obsessed with “correcting” in me (if not also casting me off as some anachronistic, ruined and hazardous goods). But it would be unethical for me not to speak out in Sam’s defense against being persecuted for his honesty by way of a mad rush to killing him with kindness. “Shut up” is a bitter pill to swallow, for those who talk too much.

    • It’s as if he has been stripped and forced to wear some fabrication of the wishfully thinking, a gaudy cloak of The Brave Pioneer.

      No one forced him to do any such thing – he actively sought it out.

      • Isn’t that the hard thing about being honest, in a situation like Sam’s? Besides, he was already “out.” Wasn’t he already honest to his college teammates? Any one of them could have blabbed. So could anyone in the media, who caught it when one of his teammates blabbed, then turned around and blabbed some more. So now, why assume that Sam “sought it out,” when all he was doing was being honest with a larger population?

        • So now, why assume that Sam “sought it out,” when all he was doing was being honest with a larger population?

          First, because it was an unprompted statement. Second, because despite what people seem to believe the “large population” doesn’t need to know every fucking detail about someone’s life.

          • First, because it was an unprompted statement. Second, because despite what people seem to believe the “large population” doesn’t need to know every fucking detail about someone’s life.
            ***********
            I just wonder, is it better (for the gay person) to declare he is gay before he is observed being gay?
            Because, if it was me (and I am straight, so it’s really just a guess), I would just live my life and if that including being out with another man, or seen looking intimate with another man, then I would just say, “well, I am gay, get over it, it doesn’t change my ability to kick opposing team ass on the field.”
            Then I would carry on and the rest of the world may think what they may.
            Being gay is going to stop being a big freaking deal and just be a normal lifestyle when people start treating it like that.
            Terry Bradshaw wasn’t out telling ABC what he liked to do with his partners / wives. Or calling a press conference to declare he was hetero.

            I agree with AMS here that some of this “coming out to the media” seems a little bit like trying to get attention.
            I also agree with him that it isn’t everyone else’s business – someone’s private sex life.

            Our inability to accept that gays exist and are moving freely through society as equals and not perverted mistakes of nature makes us look like a bunch of ignorant hicks. It seriously does.

            • Precisely. The thing is, if there were NO way to tell he was gay without him saying it, then I would be firmly in the camp of “why are you telling us this, exactly?” An athlete who doesn’t go to any religious service has no particular need to tell us he’s an atheist, or doesn’t care, or is a lapsed something, or anything else, unless it’s to make some kind of point. A gay athlete, in order to not let people know, would have to never go on a date, never have an escort to team or league parties, have no romantic life that wasn’t hushed and clandestine. So no, Scott, he’s not opening his fucking nommer to tell us something we don’t need to know- he’s shutting down the rumor mongering mystery machine at its tracks. He’s going to live his life and date and court and love and fuck and marry just like any straight athlete could. If you think he shouldn’t do any of those things, then fuck you.

              • Two things:

                1. The gay community feels that young gays especially benefit from prominent gays in all professions showing no shame in admitting their orientation, and that NOT coming out implies marginalization, fear and shame. And I think they are correct in this.

                2. Saying one is gay says no more about one’s sex life than saying one is heterosexual. I know gay men and women who have been celibate all their lives. It is not “too much information.”

  4. “There is one way, and one way only, that Michael Sam will be able to have a positive affect on NFL and U.S. culture, and that is if his sexual orientation is allowed to fade into the background and be invisible….which it should be. ”

    aka Normalization. Too late. Too bad … for him. If the sole object of the employer is winning the game, anything that disrupts the employees who must act as a team is intolerable. He becomes a distraction automatically, regardless of skills level. Singletons like Greg Louganis, fare much better, even 20 years ago. On the bright side (well, 0.981 candela), getting his face out there along with a modified job description — just adding in that little three-letter word and letting it sit there — will help (oh, say seven or eight more out-comers down the line) the new/old idea to be taken for granted.

    From Luke: “The big thing, I think, isn’t that the media is hurting him by trying to help- it’s that they don’t give a shit about him at all…”

    Did I hear you say the media are trying to help? HELP? … and the next word would be “themselves” I think.

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