Why is Michael Sam’s coming out a big deal?
In the comments to Kazzy’s piece about NFL prospect Michael Sam’s coming out of the closet, commenter notme asks:
Sorry I’m not sure what the big deal is. The idea that he wants to be treated like everyone else is great but it seems to run counter to the idea that he needs/ or should get all this publicity for being gay. I’m not sure what being gay has to do with being a good defensive player so why even bring it up?
After all, we gay people keep going on and on about how we’re just folks like everyone else. I, personally, have pointedly objected to assumptions in the media about how gays are meant to look and behave. A football player has come out? So what, ho hum, snore. Does it even matter?
Right now, gay kids have lots of role models they can look up to… in showbiz. I can easily rattle off a dozen names without even having to think about it. Singers, actors, writers — no sweat. We even have a few journalists and a handful of politicians. Role models a-go-go!
For a gay teenager like I was, one who happens to be really into popular culture and politics, this seems like a happy thing. Even if he lives in a part of the country where gays do not enjoy societal acceptance, he can see these people and know he can make a fulfilling life for himself. He can be openly gay and thrive.
The trouble is, of course, that not all gay guys are into popular culture or politics. There are gay kids who dream about being the next Tom Brady, not the next Neil Patrick Harris. There are gay kids whose aspirations are closer to Tiki Barber’s career than Anderson Cooper’s. There are gay kids for whom Barney Frank is nothing more than a name.
There are gay kids who, like vast numbers of their straight fellows, live and love and breathe team sports, America’s secular religion. I wasn’t that kid, but God knows they’re out there. And they have had nobody to show them that that kind of life was open to people like them.
When I was a teenager, I would have been grateful for any popular gay celebrities. The only gay celebrity I can remember from that time in my life was Rock Hudson, a man dying of AIDS and the subject (I am terribly sad the recall) of countless tasteless jokes told in my hearing. Ellen DeGeneres will always be a personal hero of mine because of how she changed the culture in a way that nobody before her had done.
Michael Sam has become that person for a whole other bunch of gay kids. The ones who have more in common with him than with Zachary Quinto or Elton John or me. Because, yeah, we’re all a lot more than just gay, and being gay isn’t the most important or interesting thing about any of us. And yeah, it shouldn’t have anything to do with the perception of how good a defensive player someone is.
But until now it didn’t necessarily seem that way to some gay kids. And maybe now it will.