Michael Sam’s coming out as a gay man is, indeed, a game changer, but it really shouldn’t be the case.
Billie Jean King. Greg Louganis. Brian Boitano. All three are gay. All three are athletes. All three are a mere sampling of the thousands and thousands of gay men and women that have dedicated their lives to mastering the skills, endurance, and talent to excel in sport.
The fact is that the sporting community has always had gay people in it; even locally, Philadelphia is the proud home of athletic organizations that cater directly to local LGBT individuals. The locally based Philadelphia Gryphons Rugby Football Club and The Fins Aquatic Group are two excellent examples of diverse groups of LGBT athletes who practice and compete for the greater good of sport.
So why is Michael Sam such a big deal?
Yes, a part of it has to do with the fact that Sam would be the first out athlete while being on a NFL roster. But the deeper, more disturbing, reason why there’s been such a discussion and debate over Sam’s possible drafting to the NFL has very little to do with his talent as a footballer, but has everything to do with homophobia and perceived notions of what is “gay.”
In short, our culture simply cannot see a gay man playing American football.
It gets worse—from there, Francis continued to dig himself a deeper hole, saying, “You do a survey of the hair-dressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that. Professional sport, by its very nature, doesn’t promote [homosexuality]. I mean, if you’ve ever sat down with homosexual people, and asked them what their interests are, very often they have no interest in any kind of sport.”
What exactly is Mr. Francis implying here? It sounds very much like the age-old homophobic scare tactic that athletes, like Michael Sam, really have no interest in football itself, but rather the locker room (and apparently “hair-dressing,” because we might as well perpetuate that stereotype while we’re at it).
Such insinuations and sweeping classifications are utterly absurd and avoid the real conversation: that a person’s sexuality should have nothing to do with an athlete’s skill. It’s a timely reminder: as the world continues to turn it’s focus to Sochi for the remainder of the Winter Olympics, the crowning achievement of any athlete, Michael Sam’s story, and the rather unfortunate homophobia of both Mr. Francis and, in the case of the Olympics, the Russian government, demonstrate the mixed progress towards LGBTQ individuals in sport, and in general.