It has become the most talked-about kiss since Judas puckered up and planted his lips on Jesus’s cheek.
But in this case, there was no betrayal. No 30 pieces of silver. It was two men, Michael Sam and Vito Cammisano, locking lips in an emotional moment never before witnessed on national television.
Has anything changed in the scant hours since the gay football player and his boyfriend embraced? Not that you’d notice. Mother Earth did not make a stutter-step of shock when the two men swapped spit. The sun, the moon and the stars are maintaining their respective schedules. There has not been a seismic shift in society. It is no more bigoted, nor less bigoted, than it was before The Kiss.
“They didn’t have to show it,” I heard someone with a screwed-up face and narrow mind say yesterday.
Well, no, they didn’t. ESPN didn’t have to show other drafted players kissing their girlfriends or wives, either. But that’s what ESPN does during its coverage of the National Football League’s annual beef sale. The name of a large lad is called out, he is handed a team cap, he shakes hands with a league official, he blubbers like a baby, he sometimes kisses his significant other and the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports documents it all.
In Sam’s case, the ESPN cameras were in San Diego when he received a phone call from Jeff Fisher, head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Two hundred and 48 players had already been selected in the three-day process. Fisher was about to make Sam No. 249. And, at the same time, No. 1—the first openly gay man to be chosen in the NFL draft.
Sam said “yes sir” to Fisher on two occasions. He thanked the coach. He wept. He turned to his teary-eyed boyfriend, Cammisano, and they kissed. More than once.
It was wonderful, true television. To censure the moment would have been broadcasting betrayal.
Yet, it had many squirming. Derrick Ward, for example.
“Man U got little kids lookin at the draft,” the former New York Giants running back tweeted. “I can’t believe ESPN even allowed that to happen.”
That’s right Derrick. You can allow all those little kiddies to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and all-star wrestling, but make certain you close their ears, their eyes and their minds to the reality that some men like to kiss other men.
There are many Derrick Wards among us. I know some of them. You probably do, too. They aren’t going away any time soon. The hope, though, is that the day will arrive when their overall numbers dwindle to the point whereby someone like Michael Sam is seen as a football player. Period.
As the trail blazer, Sam is positioned to further impact on society.
There is no guarantee, mind you, that the 24-year-old will make the Rams roster. Although an all-American and SEC defensive player of the year with the Missouri Tigers last year, Sam won’t earn a starting spot with St. Louis at defensive end. Or linebacker. At best, he will be a special teams player. At worst, he will be cut and become available to any other NFL outfit. Or a Canadian Football League club.
For now, though, it only matters that he’ll be given the opportunity to break down another barrier, not just for the benefit of the gay collective but for society as a whole.
Derrick Ward and others don’t wish to see two men kissing on television because it might corrupt “little kids lookin at the draft.” Well, I’ve got news for them: Some of those “little kids lookin at the draft” are gay. They’re gay and they’re in hiding. They’re afraid to come out.
So here’s what I’d say to the gay youth: Listen to what the National Football League, Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams and ESPN are telling you. They’re telling you that it’s okay to be your true self. They’re telling you that it’s safe for you to come out and play with the other kids.
Listen to them…don’t listen to the Derrick Wards.