The NFL draft is an especially exciting time for the young men who get to see their dreams fulfilled by getting a spot on a team. When defensive end Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, it should have signaled a giant leap forward as far as tolerance in the NFL, and the United States in general, but it appears we’ve lost our way.
Sam is undoubtedly a guy who has worked hard for his success. For those who are unaware of Sam’s qualifications, he is a defensive end from the University of Missouri. Named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, there was a lot of speculation about how he would fare in the 2014 draft.
The speculation was intensified by Sam’s sexual orientation. Yeah, Sam is openly gay. And in a sport where the tough-guy mentality is pervasive, that means a lot. It’s not that Sam isn’t tough, either. If you watch footage of this guy bulldozing people, you’ll know what I mean.
On May 10th the St. Louis Rams drafted Sam in the seventh, final round. For supporters of gay rights, this was a big win. Sam undoubtedly represents a step in the right direction for the NFL, as well as our culture.
But after all the strides we’ve made by legalizing same sex marriage in over 17 states, it seemed as though our tolerance took a stumble when Sam and his boyfriend shared an onscreen smooch and immediate backlash ensued.
Former and current NFL players took to Twitter to voice their disgust at what they’d seen. Former Super Bowl champion Derrick Ward called Sam “no bueno” and pondered publicly about whether or not little kids were watching. People literally lost their minds all over the country. In Dallas, a talk show host stormed off set in response to ESPN’s coverage of the kiss.
I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t do a double take when I saw that famous smooch; after all, it’s not very often Americans are exposed to same-sex relationships on TV, and I think that’s where the problem lies (Well, coupled with good-ole-fashioned religious intolerance and ignorance, of course).
Same-sex relationships are disastrously underrepresented in the media. There are very few shows that feature gay or lesbian couples and this means that when Americans get home from work and turn on the television, they are fed images that uphold so called “traditional” values.
It’s easy to forget that American culture is changing. People are catching on, recognizing that society should be inclusive. After all, we live and work beside individuals of different sexual orientation, and they are no less of a person than you or me. Gay and lesbian couples definitely don’t deserve to be bullied on the internet for kissing their partner and sharing in the joy of a life achievement.
In order to truly address this issue of intolerance, we need to be exposed to not only different relationships, but different cultures and ideas as well. The media should take a bigger role in this by promoting shows and programming that represent society as it is, not as some conservatives think it should be.