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 →