Among the predictable reactions to The Kiss between Michael Sam and boyfriend Vito Cammisano, which was shown by ESPN during the closing minutes of the NFL draft on May 10, was the complaint about “gays shoving their sexuality down our throats.”
As long as we’re on the subject, I am tired of having my face smeared with the unresolved personal issues of people who use rape imagery to decry gay visibility. I might add that the veiled eroticism of smashing cake in his lover’s face hardly competes with that of jocks spraying champagne on one another.
Most people see through the homophobes’ feigned Victorian delicacy. Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen mocked, “[W]hen Sam was seen celebrating with his family and boyfriend, the world apparently shook, we almost collided with the sun, and yet somehow we have survived another day.” Hansen dismissed locker room fears by griping that his gay coworkers never hit on him.
Hansen said there was no way the Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year merited as late a draft pick as 249th out of 256. In this he agreed with Cyd Zeigler of OutSports, whose tweets grew restive as the draft waned, before Rams coach Jeff Fisher finally made the historic call.
The video of Sam sobbing in Cammisano’s arms as his dream became real was moving and powerful. Because he stepped up, countless people’s prospects will brighten. Expectations will change as sexual minority youth see their lives affirmed.
Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told AP, “I feel like my support for the NFL now doesn’t have an asterisk come with it. It’s now truly America’s game.”
I often say to people who talk as if they have to imagine themselves “doing it” to accept gay and transgender people: It’s not about you. You don’t get to vote on someone else’s happiness. The images on ESPN of Sam kissing Cammisano mark a cultural shift, far more than Mitch and Cam’s fictional marriage on Modern Family. A confident athlete simply stopped hiding. He enjoyed his man’s support in his big moment. More important than cake, he smashed stereotypes. His highlight reel from Mizzou leaves little doubt about his worthiness.
This could herald the end of self-consciously “safe” activism. We have had enough outness in the abstract, like past gay sitcom characters who were never seen being affectionate with their partners. We don’t owe the world our disappearance.
The haters were already braying “Think of the children!” (while excluding gay children) when plans for a documentary by the Oprah Winfrey Network gave them an opening to further stoke the distraction they claim to deplore. The doc has been postponed, but the blowback reminds us that hatred persists. In Jackie Robinson’s day, the catcalls came from the stands. For Sam, they came faster, via comment boards and Twitter. One truth endures: the pioneering player must answer his critics on the field. He can leave the advocacy to others, such as writer and SiriusXM Progress host Michelangelo Signorile, who launched an online kiss-in (hashtag #kissin) to get the world used to same-sex smooching.
Sam’s breakthrough is a milestone of our journey toward freedom and equality. In our lives, the moment flies past us and is gone. In our memories, it’s a bright flash that illuminates all around it, and sustains us in moments of frustration and despair. Do not be intimidated by the dismissive comments of those who treat this as nothing. It is a big thing, or people would not be fighting it. Is it everything? Of course not. A milestone is not the end of the journey — but we need our milestones.
Now Sam’s task is to make the team. Play your heart out, champ.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.