Transgender Ethics: Epic Trailblazer Malpractice In New Hampshire

Ex-N.H. state legislator, Stacy Laughton, a.k.a Barry Laughton.

Ex-N.H. state legislator Stacie Laughton, a.k.a  felon Barry Laughton.

Trailblazers have an ethical obligation when they presume to break a social or occupational barrier to a marginalized group’s participation and equal treatment. Simply put, their duty is to make the bias that has created the barrier and necessitated the “trail” look ignorant, cruel, foolish and unfair. A trailblazer does not have to be a shining star, though it helps, but must be capable of at least doing a solid, average, generally acceptable job., even in the grudging judgment of bigots.

This is because a trailblazer who does a poor job or displays character traits that are objectively inadequate for a role model, which a trailblazer inevitably becomes, risks adding to the barrier he or she just breached for those who follow behind them. The ethical requirement for trailblazers is the same as the traditional edict for doctors “First do no harm.” Being a trailblazer, however, is not easy, and since failure is catastrophic for the group a trailblazer represents, there is a duty not to attempt such a high-risk, high-profile cultural role unless the trailblazer is first, reasonably convinced that he or she the resources of talent, ability, fortitude, character and courage to succeed, and second, willing to accept and overcome the added stress of relentless attention and criticism.

There have been excellent trailblazers, cultural heroes all. Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League baseball player to break the color barrier is the template, but there are many other successes: Justice Thurgood Marshall, John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the U.S., Amelia Earhart, Diane Crump, the first female jockey, the late Ed Brooke, the first black U.S. Senator since reconstruction, and too many more to mention. There have also been some miserable failures. The worst trailblazer was probably Shannon Faulkner, who fought in the courts for two years to force The Citadel to accept female cadets, then, after she was victorious, showed up fat and unprepared, and washed out in just one week as millions of dubious vets said, “See? What did we tell you?” Then there was Carol Moseley Braun, the charismatic, promising African-American Democrat whon Illinois voters elected as the nation’s first black female Senator, only to turn out to be thoroughly corrupt.

More recently, we have seen other trailblazers fall short, like Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL.  Is there a celebrity gay marriage that has not ended in a quick divorce? Most have been failures, reinforcing the belief that gays are promiscuous and unsuited for a real marriage. Most vividly of all in the realm of trailblazer malpractice, we are reminded of the disheartening and tragic examples of Barack Obama, and Eric Holder every day.

Still, in the annals of epic trailblazer fiascoes, it would be hard to top the story of Stacie Laughton, New Hampshire’s first openly transgender state legislator, who was elected in 2012 as one of three House members for Ward 4 in Nashua. Continue reading

The NFL’s Foolish, Counter-productive, Unethical Gay Affirmative Action

Hey, if Nathan is happy, then the NFL is happy...

Hey, if Nathan is happy, then the NFL is happy…

The Dallas Cowboys signed openly gay defensive lineman Michael Sam to be a member of its taxi squad, thus making him–let’s see,now—the first gay NFL practice squad player ever, at least the first to let everyone know his sexual proclivities. Wow…that’s some great plot for a made-for-cable movie! I’m getting goosebumps already!

Some sportswriters had opined that it would be a “disaster” for the NFL if Sam , who was cut by the Rams, the team that drafted him, wasn’t signed by some pro team, on the theory that this would expose the whole league as bigoted against gays. Of course, it could also mean that Sam just isn’t good enough, and whom he chooses to roll in the hay with isn’t considered either a virtue or a detriment to playing NFL football. This would be called, I believe, common sense and integrity.

Never mind. Several sources report that the NFL, also believing that there was a looming disaster, “lobbied” teams to sign Sam after he was cut. This both establishes a policy of gay affirmative action in the NFL, and also exemplifies what is wrong with all affirmative action. Let’s make a list: Continue reading

The Double Standard Files

double-standardsA misguided commenter (or perhaps he was just trying to annoy me) challenged my assertions regarding Michael Sam by claiming that I was advocating a double standard in his case, while I have condemned the prevalence of double standards elsewhere on Ethics Alarms (like here.)  I pointed out, none too gently, I must admit, that this was an unjust complaint. The requirement that trailblazers in sports, politics or any other field have to either establish high levels of performance, character and trustworthiness or fail—and not only fail, but set their causes back significantly—is not a double standard, but a separate one that applies in unique circumstances. I find it difficult to believe that most people fail to understand this.

Just to be clear, however, I began this morning searching the news for true double standards, for which the accompanying word should always be “hypocrisy.” I did not have to look very far:

 Double Standard #1 

“Take back America”: Racist for Republicans, Fine for Democrats Continue reading

The Michael Sam Botch: Back To Square One…Or Worse.

You must remember this: A kiss can be a miss...

You must remember this: A kiss can be a miss…

Sportswriters are gamely putting a positive spin on it, but they are lying or deluded: Michael Sam’s failure to make the St. Louis Rams squad and the subsequent decision of every other team (there are 32 of them) to pass on his services as well means that Sam’s quest to become the first openly gay player to be drafted by and make the roster of a pro football team was not just a failure, but may have even set his cause back a year or ten.

Or maybe that wasn’t his cause at all. Maybe a gay player whose skills left him a borderline draftee at best made a calculated decision that his best chance was to shame the NFL into drafting him by announcing his sexual orientation, and gamble that he could shine enough in camp to make the team. The genius of this strategy, if that’s what it was, is that even if he didn’t make the team, Sam would become a celebrity, and in some circles, an icon.

Well, that part worked. What doomed the rest of the plan were, in order of importance,

  • Sam isn’t good enough to be a trailblazer.
  • The media made certain that such a big deal was made over Sam’s sex life that no NFL team could avoid wondering, “How much will having this guy around get in the way of winning football games?” From Ethics Alarms in February:

The irony is that it is the mostly positive media obsession with Sam’s status as a potential trailblazer, rather than the anti-gay 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.

They couldn’t help themselves, of course, and sure enough, Sam was doomed. Continue reading

Michael Sam Flunks Trailblazer Ethics, And Many Will Suffer Because Of It

Sam kiss

The most charitable explanation for Michael Sam’s disastrous performance in the wake of the NFL draft is that he’s a young man who got terrible advice. A less charitable theory is that he’s an idiot. The worst theory of all is that Michael Sam is less interested in being the first openly gay pro-football player who blazes a clear path for those who follow him, and more concerned about becoming a gay icon, or worse, a martyr. Whatever the reason, Sam accepted the massive responsibility of being a cultural trailblazer, and fumbled the ball.

Sam wasn’t the best player in the NFL draft, but everyone knew, including Sam, that he would be the most closely watched. He had “come out” as gay soon after the college football season, and in light of his prominence and recognition as a stand-out athlete, his honesty and openness about his sexual orientation was hailed as a cultural turning point, an advance for gay Americans, and a test for the macho NFL. Would he be drafted? If he wasn’t (or was?), would it be because he was gay? ESPN’s cameras were in the Missouri defensive end’s home Saturday as the drafts neared its final stages with Sam name still uncalled. When St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher called Sam at his agent’s house in San Diego to tell the former University of Missouri defensive lineman that they had selected him in the seventh and last round of the draft, it was instant drama.

There was more drama, in fact, than ESPN and viewers probably expected. Sam burst into tears while receiving the call, and then received an emotional, mouth-t0-mouth kiss from his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Actually, there is; several, in fact. To begin with, Sam had violated the Second Niggardly Principle, which states,

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

A clearer example of the SNP would be hard to find. No doubt about it, most heterosexual Americans, which means most of the public, are not used to seeing adult men kissing each other on the lips. There is no question that Sam knows this: of course he does. Even now, popular culture uses the image for shock value; it was only the 90’s when an impulsive lip-lock from Kramer on Jerry drove the studio audience to screams of laughter. No, there’s nothing “wrong” with two men kissing each other, but an awful lot of people were raised to think it is unnatural, and it is wrong to intentionally or negligently offend or upset them gratuitously. It is the flip side of tolerance: consideration and etiquette. Causing discomfort just because you can, or because your targets “deserve” or “need” to feel uncomfortable is just trouble-making for the hell of it. “Deal with it!” is confrontational and aimed at creating rancor, not comity. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero: Michael Sam”

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

The media and sports talk show uproar about NFL prospect Michael Sam announcing that he is gay prior to the upcoming NFL draft has subsided considerably (just wait until Draft Day, though), but the Ethics Alarms threads about Sam’s decision and the ethical dilemmas and choices it represents remain vigorous.

Here is Penn’s thoughtful and well-rendered comment from yesterday, the Comment of the Day, on the post, Ethics Hero: Michael Sam…

Interesting “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” discussion here. The only point I see is that Sam stepped up to the plate (dis gut NFL speak, no?), which took guts. In this, I am in full agreement with Jack’s first paragraph.

Whatever Sam’s motivations or goals, or the reactions (or non) of his chosen profession and its fan-atics, or the general public, I don’t see any value in arguing generalized outcomes (unless they are exercises in ethics, naturally). I can say as much sooth as anyone, based on both anecdotal and empirical evidence; rather, I am talking about a negative value in doing so. [… maybe, if it’s up on the tote-board in Vegas.] Such debates just degenerate into … well, what Jack was interpolating into several exchanges: the writers’ biases, and the public’s bigotry (of course, the latter does not exist among EA commenters). Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Michael Sam

What NFL team wants to draft Caesar's wife?

What NFL team wants to draft Caesar’s wife?

Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, told ESPN Sunday that he is gay. “I am an openly, proud gay man.” Sam is projected to be a mid-round draft choice for the NFL draft in May. If he is drafted and makes the team, Sam would be the first openly gay active NFL player.

We shall see. Sam’s plan, he said, was to announce his sexual orientation after the draft, which might have been wiser and more practical, though not as ethical. He said that rumors were circulating, so he decided to come out now.

However he arrived at the decision, Sam’s candor is a courageous act, and I assume he will suffer for it. No NFL team has to draft him, and many teams that might have will not, presumably, simply to avoid the distraction of media scrutiny. If they draft him and cut him, will he claim that it was out of bigotry? Will he sue? I think most teams will decide that there are other similarly talented non-gay players available, and let some other team jump into these roiling social change and political waters. Continue reading