Michael Sam: The wrong man for the job of breaking the gay barrier

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter that Michael Sam is gay.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

Just as it didn’t matter that a lesbian, Megan Rapinoe, scored two goals and assisted on a third in the United States’ 3-1 victory over Australia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Or that another lesbian, Abby Wambach, was wearing the captain’s arm band for Uncle Sam’s girls in that same game.

Unless I missed it, there was nary a mention of either Rapinoe’s or Wambach’s sexual orientation in mainstream media post-match dispatches. Just the facts, ma’am.

There are two possible reasons for this: People simply assume the majority of the pony-tailed girls cavorting on the pitches of half a dozen Canadian cities in the WWC are lesbian, or they simply do not care that they are lesbian. Either way, the sleeping arrangements of the two Americans, and another dozen or so lesbians in the soccer tournament, is not an issue. Nor should it be.

Alas, being an openly gay woman on a global sporting stage is a decidedly different animal than being an openly gay man in professional football, because the reality that Sam favors the company of men matters to a whole lot of folks. Many condemn his homosexuality, waving their Bibles and spewing bile about damnation in the fires of hell. Others celebrate diversity and root for Sam in his quest to secure full-time employment with the Montreal Alouettes.

In either case, Sam has not been allowed to be just a football player. He is an openly gay football player. The only one ever to draw pay to strap on a pair of shoulder pads in North America.

And now he is gone. He has bugged out, having taken his leave from the Alouettes’ training exercises in a shroud of secrecy and uncertainty that, in all likelihood, signals the end of any hope he harbored for opening the Canadian Football League season with the Larks. This, no doubt, shall sound the death knell on a career that scarcely began.

The reason for Sam’s withdrawal last Friday remains a mystery. It’s personal, we have been told. Jim Popp, the man who generally manages the Alouettes, has placed little light on the matter, other than to tell the Montreal Gazette that the rookie rush end “wanted to go home, and that’s what he did.” Another source suggested Sam was sulking, in a funk because one of his would-be Montreal mates muttered something about a deficiency in skill. Thus, he took his ball and went home to Texas.

If true, it is a rather pathetic pity play, one that places the final punctuation mark on a rather sad scorecard for Sam:

Attended the St. Louis Rams training camp, saw the field in a couple of National Football League exhibition games, and was cut; signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice roster, never played a down, and was cut; signed a two-year contract with the Alouettes, attended training camp, quit.

In football terms, it is of little consequence to the Alouettes. Their universe shall unfold as it should without Michael Sam. This has always been about more than football, though. It’s about breaking down barriers, diversity and acceptance. And, of course, bigotry and hatred.

If you think otherwise, consider some of the rude remarks that accompanied news that Sam had bugged out:

“No decent player wanted to be near him in the shower.”

“Being gay doesn’t make you a professional football player. It just means you are a fudge packer and a bologna bobber.”

“Probably started crying when he got an erection in the locker room.”

“Homosexuality is a birth defect of the hormones that determine male/female. LGBT should stop trying to force us to think that it is normal. Homosexuality is not normal.”

“Jesus said NO to this kind of animalistic lust!”

“Guessing his teammates didn’t like playing drop the soap.”

“Probably out of lube.”

“He’ll return as Caitlyn Sam. It’s all the rage in the U.S.”

Charming stuff, don’t you think?

All that has transpired in the past year leaves me to wonder what impact the Sam saga has, or will have, on gay youth. How far has this pushed a young gay man with aspirations of a football (or hockey, basketball, baseball) career back into the closet?

Like many in the LGBT collective, not to forget straight allies, I was rooting for Sam. I wanted him to succeed. To prove that a gay man could not only play, but excel in the most macho of professional team sports. Turns out he wasn’t up to the task. He’s not a good enough football player. He doesn’t have the mental makeup required to be the pioneer.

Unfortunately, that’s not how this will play out. People will point to his sexual orientation and say, “There, you see. Gay men aren’t tough enough to play a real man’s sport. The fags should stick to figure skating.” As a consequence, it’s my guess that much water will flow beneath the bridge before we see another openly gay man challenge a deeply homophobic system.

Mamas, you can let your lesbian daughters grow up to be world-class soccer players, but don’t let your gay sons grow up to be football players.

It’s sad. So very sad.

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