Opinion: By Athlete Ally Communications Intern, Ty Greene
On Saturday, Michael Sam made history by becoming the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL when he was selected by the St. Louis Rams. Like many other draft candidates, upon hearing the news, Sam turned to his significant other to share a celebratory kiss – a public display of affection that has ignited an impassioned public discourse about PDAs in the LGBT community. The buzz surrounding the historic significance of the draft pick was quickly overshadowed by a debate on the “appropriateness” of the kiss for national television.
Many saw the PDA as a non-issue; production crews at ESPN and the NFL Network, which aired the kiss in the moments after Sam was drafted, explained that they never considered that the decision could be problematic: “Quite honestly it was just another moment in the years we’ve done this,” ESPN Producer Seth Markman explained. Others, however, reacted more negatively, including current NFL players and sportscasters taking to social media to voice their discontent.
This back-and-forth has quickly taken over much of the sports coverage in recent days, appearing in media outlets across the world. It was a central topic of discussion on Sunday’s edition of ESPN’s Outside the Lines, where host Bob Ley explained the kiss as “being hailed as a transcendent moment in sports.” Yet even on that very show, opinions on the kiss varied considerably, as demonstrated by the conversation below between ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum and ESPN & CNN columnist LZ Granderson.
FINEBAUM: I appreciated the moment. And, I’ve been a Michael Sam fan for a very long time. However – this is a personal opinion, not my callers’ – I felt like he went too far. I try to equate everything to what I would do, and I realize that I’m not in the same place as Michael Sam. But I would be excited and maybe kiss my wife in public at a moment. But I think sharing cake and the icing really was too much. I felt like Michael Sam was either not mature enough to handle that moment or someone was orchestrating the moment, which bothers me more than the 1st part.
GRANDERSON: Wasn’t he at his home? He was home right? He wasn’t like out in public or at the mall or anything.
FINEBAUM: Well, of course he was at home. He was well aware, LZ, that there were cameras around. And I felt like he took advantage of that moment or he had been scripted to take advantage of it. I don’t know the answer to that.
GRANDERSON: For me, I think it’s a larger conversation about our culture’s comfort with public displays of affection — perhaps more so than orientation. I remember the kiss that Michael Jackson had with Lisa Marie Presley and we were like ‘Whoa that was a bit much’. I do think there’s an element of PDA that’s discomforting, in general. But with that being said, to downplay the fact that it was two men engaged with that level of PDA, I think is a bit disingenuous.
FINEBAUM: LZ, please. This has nothing to do with two men. Andy, if this had been Tom Brady and Gisele (Bundchen) I would’ve been just as offended because it is just too much. Most people don’t do that in public, particularly with cameras around. That’s why I think some people, rightly, believe that this was an agenda. And it pains me to say that being a Michael Sam supporter. But I’m just telling you the truth, my natural reaction and the reaction of people for whom I’ve spoken to today.
Finebaum makes it clear that he supports Michael Sam and that he appreciated the significance of Sam’s being drafted. What he isn’t fully grasping here is that as a straight man, he is not in the same place, or the same situation, as Michael Sam. At that moment in time, Sam, a gay man who had grown up with no LGBT role models in the NFL, had just discovered that he had shattered one of the last barriers in what is arguably perceived as the most masculine sport on the planet. This was more than an individual realizing a personal dream; this was a courageous young gay man finding out that he had succeeded in breaking into what was once considered a straight league and paving the way for thousands of young players to come. Straight allies, like Finebaum, are not only welcomed by the LGBT community – they are needed in the march towards a truly even playing field. And in order to be effective allies, they have to recognize that their lived experience is different from that of their LGBT counterparts, and try to look at things from a different perspective before passing judgment.
The issue here is not the knee-jerk reaction to the kiss. As a society, we still are not used to seeing two men (or two women) share a public display of affection, because those images are still widely lacking in the mainstream media we see every day. So it makes sense that many people might be a little uneasy viewing something like that for potentially the first time. We need to question why that type of reaction occurred in the first place. Is a man kissing his boyfriend any different from a man kissing his girlfriend? Are there any negative effects? Our society’s views are changing, and more and more people are answering those questions with a resounding “no!”
But as we witnessed over the weekend, it will take more than a few isolated events to further this change. That is why we need more Michael Sams to kiss their boyfriends after they get drafted into a major sports league, more mainstream coverage of these normal, everyday human interactions, and more vocal support from all corners of the athletic world that sport is for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
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