A few days ago the sports world was repeatedly beaten over the head with the “very important news” that Michael Sam, star linebacker of the Missouri Tigers and hot NFL prospect, had openly declared his homosexuality. We were assured by breathless sports reporters and talk show hosts that this was “huge” and consequently just had to be talked about ad nauseam for three days. In much the same way as Jason Collins, a washed up seven foot tall basketball player, was canonized a year ago when at the end of his career he went public with his sexual preferences, sports fans now know every detail of Mr. Sam’s life. He appears to be a great guy.
Of course, if Michael Sam gets drafted and makes an NFL roster he will by no means become the first homosexual to do so. He will just be the first one we have known of beforehand, which I suppose is newsworthy…I guess. Maybe it’s just me, but the only thing I would care about as an owner or general manager of an NFL team would be…can he play? Actually, that’s not entirely true. I would also want to know what kind of character he possessed. Was he an arrogant, trouble making egomaniac in college with poor work habits? If so I would pass. By all accounts Mr. Sam was a model citizen. He was also Defensive Player of the Year in the mighty SEC last year, so if I need an undersized outside linebacker who can get after the quarterback, I would pick him in a New York minute.
Listening to sports talk radio the past three days has been like peering into a petri dish full of something terribly noxious yet unidentifiable. Some guys are opposed to an openly gay man being inside an NFL locker room, some squeamishly so. Other guys thought that it would change the entire culture of the locker room, forcing everyone to walk on eggshells for fear of saying something politically incorrect. Still others didn’t care one way or the other. I count myself among that group.
And yet, there was one objection that kept coming up to which every single talking head I listened to was unanimous in their condemnation. Every host from the national shows and two of the three local guys were condescendingly dismissive of anyone who brought up the question of how appropriate it was to have a homosexual man walking around a locker room full of naked men. Wouldn’t that be weird and borderline sketchy? Anyone who dared broach this topic was subjected to a withering smack down by the snarky host, the primary point being something along the lines of, “Dude, just because someone is gay doesn’t mean that he gets all turned on by the sight of a naked guy. That’s insulting!!”
Ok. Humor me for a second. Let’s do a little thought experiment. Suppose in the distant future of sport in America, it becomes acceptable for men to play traditionally women’s sports. A young, handsome and strapping 20 year old man would then be allowed to roam the locker room of his predominately women’s tennis team. Our straight young man would be showering with Maria Sharapovas as far as the eye could see. Would anyone have a problem with that? I mean, besides his girlfriend. What’s the difference between this hypothetical and the real situation that Mr. Sam will be presented with this summer? As a heterosexual man, I am naturally attracted to women, especially the female form, and in the case of lithe, athletic 20 year old tennis players, double-especially. Mr. Sam has shared openly his preference for men. He will be surrounded by 40 of the most physically fit and elite male forms known to exist on this planet. Are we being asked to believe that this is a total nonissue? If the tables were turned, I can say without hesitation that my wife would not at all be happy with my presence in a locker room full of naked women, even if I never acted inappropriately, because…it’s just wrong and dangerous for a man to subject himself to that sort of temptation. Not because men are uncontrollable ass grabbers, but simply because it isn’t appropriate or healthy. End of thought experiment.
I wish Michael Sam every success in the NFL. And I eagerly await one of my hipper friends explaining to me why my thought experiment is terribly flawed.