So yeah…that finally happened. A star college football player and likely NFL player Michael Sam came out of the closet. There’s already a ton of stories out there about Sam and everything that went on behind the scenes before that New York Times story hit the web.
But, of course, there are morons out there. Most people don’t try to be morons. And most people aren’t inherently morons. Hopefully, they just don’t know any better—and some education will help them. Otherwise, they are just homophobic assholes.
And since most of you probably don’t want to be homophobic assholes, I’m going to do all my straight friends a favor and give you a guide of how NOT to react to the Michael Sam story. So before you head to work Monday morning, give yourself this little primer.
Here are five things that you should never say when you’re talking about this story.
1. “This shouldn’t be news.”
There are about 3,000 professional athletes on rosters in the four major North American sports (NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA) every single year. Not a single one of them has EVER been out of the closet while still playing. A recent New York Times story concluded that about five out of every 100 men are gay. So obviously, there are people playing professional sports that are gay, but they are in the closet.
Why are they in closet? Because our culture has forced them there—perpetuating the dangerous notion that it’s not OK to be gay. And without a gay athlete as a role model, then young athletes who are struggling with their own sexuality will have nobody to look up to, making an already difficult part of life even more challenging.
I knew of zero gay people in the sports world –athletes, journalists, coaches—so when I started writing about sports, I didn’t think it was possible to be gay and also in the world of sports. It was not a fun time for me. I tried even harder to convince myself that I was straight.
I made it out OK, but the same can’t be said for other LGBT athletes who have nobody to look up to.
So yes, this is big news.
(Also, straight people don’t get to decide what is news to the gay community).
2. “I don’t care if he’s gay, but why does he have to announce it?”
This is one of the newest and most popular forms of homophobia. Yes, we do have to announce it, because straight people announce their sexuality every single day. But I already wrote about this one, so we’ll move on.
3. ‘I don’t care about what he does in the bedroom.”
Being gay is about more than who you have sex with. That is based off stereotypes that all gay men do is have sex with each other. Trust me, we don’t. (#ForeverAlone)
Being gay is about way more than the bedroom. It’s about love and equality.
4. “But won’t that make his teammates uncomfortable?”
Take a look at Missouri’s season. They lost one game in the regular season, made it all the way to the SEC Championship game, and then won the Cotton Bowl. Sam told his teammates that he was gay last summer, so they knew all year long.
Also, realize that most of the Missouri campus community knew all year, and the gossip really didn’t leak out. That shows how respected he was. It also says a lot about the Missouri student body. And it proves that the You Can Play project works.
So no, Sam’s sexuality obviously wasn’t a distraction this season, so it shouldn’t be in the NFL
5. “What if he checks out teammates in the showers?”
Again, it obviously wasn’t a problem at Missouri. But this is something that someone says when they are afraid of the unknown.
First, if you’re standing naked in a giant room showering with a bunch of other naked men, chances are someone has seen your junk. Does it really matter if they find you attractive?
Second, see the statistics at the beginning of this post. There are definitely some closeted athletes out there right now showering with other men. They’ve managed to control themselves so far.
Third, his teammates should be flattered if Sam thinks they’re attractive. One true stereotype is that gay men are absurdly picky. So if a gay man hits on you, you should be flattered, not uncomfortable.
So there you go, straight people: five simple phrases to avoid when talking about Michael Sam, and gay athletes in general.
I know most of you don’t want to be homophobic, so use this as a learning opportunity.
And I leave you with the best tweet I saw all night. This is why this is so important:
Right now, there is a young gay Black teen who was about to quit football, who decided to stick with it, proudly because of Michael Sam
— Sarafeminista (@FeministaJones) February 10, 2014