Why is Michael Sam’s coming out a big deal?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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90 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    While perhaps secondary, this is also an important moment for young straight athletes. Michael Sam is going to break down a lot of stereotypes. And the way that he is treated by others in the league — which I hope is as an equal — will go a long way towards modeling for those straight athletes (and young straight men in general) how they should respond to their gay counterparts.Report

  2. North says:

    I’m quite chuffed about it too.Report

  3. Rose Woodhouse says:

    I think it’s especially impressive that he came out right before the draft.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      From what I understand, he wanted to stay ahead of the story and, as I quoted in my little blurb, wanted to own and tell the story himself. He wanted to avoid a Manti Te’o-esque situation where there is rumor and speculation. While there is a large difference between being gay and perpetrating or being conned by a fictitious girlfriend, once the rumor mill starts spinning, it can quickly become a mess.

      He’s likely going to get bombarded by reporters at the combine and other events (though I understand the NFL is already taking steps to address this) but it would be a real feather in his cap if he handles all the attention and scrutiny well.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, I wonder if we’re close to a social shift where his being gay can be broadly played for advantage. And I mean beyond a few narrow subcultures, such as fashion, music, and modeling. To me this seems a fine thing.

        Of course, we’ll soon hear a litany from concerned hets about how he plays it for advantage, and how OMG! terrible it would be if he got “special treatment.”

        Usually from the same folks who didn’t mind so much the thousands of years of “special treatment” we queers have received so far.

        I say good for him. Gay it up hard, bro.Report

      • zic in reply to Kazzy says:


        This is Ta-Nehisi Coates on Sam’s coming out:

        Powerful interests are rarely “ready” for change, so much as they are assaulted by it. We refer to barriers being “broken” for a reason. The reason is not because great powers generally like to unbar the gates and hold a picnic in the honor of the previously excluded.

        source: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/02/the-nfl-will-never-be-ready-for-an-openly-gay-player/283706/

        I’d like the world, and the NFL, to be more open and accepting. I’d like very much for your hope to be true. But my suspicion is that Coates is correct. Here’s another part of the piece, a Coates’ reaction to Jonathan Vilma’s speculations of what would happen if a gay teammate saw him naked:

        What undergirds this logic is a fear of being made into a woman, which is to say a fear of being regarded sexually by someone who is as strong as, or stronger than, you. Implicit to the fear is the gay player’s ability to do violence. It exists right alongside a belief that the gay player is a “sissy.” (“Grown men should not have female tendencies. Period,” Vilma once tweeted.) The logic is kin to the old Confederate belief that Southern slaves were so loyal and cowardly yet they must never be given guns.

        To be gay and play in the NFL has to overcome the fears of men being womenly. I think you have some experience in just how pervasive those fears are. (So I know some hope, because you know how pervasive those fears are, also.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thanks for sharing, @zic . I had seen the first quoted elsewhere but didn’t get to read the whole piece. But… ho… ly… CRAP! That second quote. Damn TNC is good.

        “What undergirds this logic is a fear of being made into a woman, which is to say a fear of being regarded sexually by someone who is as strong as, or stronger than, you.”

        I wonder how much of this is related to a desire or need for control. In turn, I wonder how much that desire or need for control is inherent (to humans in general or men specifically) and how much of it is nurtured. If we raise our boys to be men who desperately fear a lack of control, how frightening the consequences of that might be.

        Curiously… I can be a bit of a control freak in a number of areas of my life (“No… bowls go here in the dishwasher.”) yet some of my strongest sexual fantasies involve completely forgoing control.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @zic — Yes, Mr. Coates (as usual) gets it completely right.

        A structurally similar discourse is going on right now regarding trans people in public restrooms, where some cis people are evidently “uncomfortable” with our presence, and that discomfort alone, they claim, is enough to justify excluding us. Which is bullshit. An irrational discomfort justifies little, except their need to learn and grow.

        Needless to say these conversations quickly descend into competing anecdote, about that lady you knew who that one time met that one tranny in the woman’s room who did that one thing — blah, blah, blah. I expect these same people spread stories about “AIDS needles” and the “knockout game.”

        I wonder if whites were “comfortable” with desegregated schools?

        If only we had history to learn from.

        @kazzy — On your last bit, thanks for sharing. 🙂

        You know, there are subcultures that would welcome you.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Heh, thanks @veronica-dire . Perhaps because of privilege or perhaps far more innocuous reasons, my sexual preferences are one of the last things I would define myself by, such that I don’t know how much comfort or interest I’d have in connecting with people over them. “Oh, you like when your partner takes the lead role, too? Cool. Do we have anything else in common?” That sort of thing. Given that I’m in a monogamous committed relationship with a woman who meets my needs, these people would only be friends. And sexual preferences, to me, seems like a weird thing to make friends over. But maybe that is easy for me to say given the privilege I enjoy.

        Now, if there is a group of people who fret over dishwasher organization AND like mild restraints in bed… okay, maybe we’re on to something there.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, one can search the FetLife kink list for “Dishwasher organization control freak”…

        Now if only you could combine the two.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        “Hey baby… I want to rearrange your dishes… [raised eyebrows] If you know what I mean.”
        “No… I mean I literally want to rearrange the way you place your dishes in the dishwasher. It’s horribly inefficient. And your spoons are nesting, fer crying out loud!”

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy — Actually, there are dishwasher loading fetishes listed, and there are people who (evidently) do that.

        The kink scene is — well — tremendously varied.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think that male fears of rape are, in some part, correlated to how much force they’ve used in the past on their romantic assignations. And to how socially acceptable they deem such force to be.

        (note: if a guy has been raped, or otherwise abused, this is obviously a different story, as it’s warranted to be a bit shellshocked after something like that).Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      It is impressive, but perhaps not for the reason we might initially think (at least that I did). It’s not so much his willingness to take the draft-placement consequences that is so impressive (though it is impressive, and that’s what I initially focused on), as the prudence it shows to realize that if he didn’t come out now, he may not feel he would get the chance to do so until such time as he was either an established NFL player, or a failed one. Not that it’s right, but he might very reasonably have assessed that allowing himself to be drafted while in the closet would create a situation where he would be unable to come out for a number of years after the draft for fear of being accused of being not entirely forthcoming about himself (the relevant fact being not that he is gay, as lots of teams surely know and are perfectly fine with having multiple gay players on their rosters, but that he had the intention to come out as openly gay shortly after joining his new team), and bring a dread “major distraction” to the team in his rookie year. It’s impressively insightful on his part to foresee all of that and see how much in his interest it was to come out now if he wanted to avoid having to go (back!) into the closet on his new team.

      Which brings us to Missouri. Michael Sam announced his sexual orientation at a team meeting early in the season when the team was asked to share something about themselves not everyone knew. Many already did know about Michael, but at that time it became a shared and public fact about one of their best defensive players, and by all accounts, their acceptance of it was essentially total. The people of Missouri, the State of Missouri, the University of Missouri, and especially its football program I think have reason to be proud today. By being the highest-profile major football program (college or pro) to accept an openly gay (within the locker room) player to date, they possibly were instrumental in ushering in a change in culture, or allowing a new culture of acceptance, to openly assert itself to an old, limited on in one of the most conservative sports cultures on the planet. As Russell says, they helped allow Michael Sam possibly changed the landscape for young gay (and lesbian!) athletes and others for the better in a permanent way. They did this country’s sports community proud this football season in a way no one knew about while the season was unfolding. What a great story.Report

  4. j r says:

    It is really difficult not to interpret comment like notme’s as something other than, “it’s fine if these gays want to be gay, but can’t they just be quiet about it.” And when someone expresses that sentiment, it is really difficult to believe that he is really fine with it.Report

    • I saw that, too.

      I find their words rather pathetic, really. As though they’re just passive passengers atop the crest of a wave they’re helpless to redirect. Instead of, y’know… the people in charge and all.Report

      • Chris in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I suspect old dudes in NFL front offices have very little sense of how homosexuality is viewed among young players in the locker room today.Report

      • Mo in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        The rich will get richer in this case. Seattle won’t care, neither will New England, San Fran or New Orleans or other teams with strong leadership and success. They’ll be able to impose their will on their players and coaches to get with the program or they’ll find people that will. Bad teams with crappy leadership will avoid the “distractions and the good teams will get a good player at a discount.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        This also makes me wonder what it means for a space to be “ready” for gay people. Sometimes arguments that places aren’t ready seems based on the idea that a place is ready for gay people if and only if it looks like a unicorn sharted a rainbow all over it. Are there going to be players who might be uncomfortable with Sam’s presence? Sure. Which is true pretty much everywhere. Now, is an NFL locker room likely to be less supportive than many other places of a gay man? Probably. But one of the best ways to move locker rooms forward is to have gay men in them. Gay men who belong in them because of their football talent just like their straight breathren.

        I’m sure Sam knows he’s going to hear the F-word and other insults. They may not be directed at him, but he’ll hear them. He already hears them. He’s gotten this far in live navigating largely heterosexual and hypermasculine spaces and none of them dissolved. I’m confident he’ll be able to do the same in the NFL.

        Michael Sam is as much a man’s-man (whatever that means) as any other NFLer. They don’t need to turn the locker room into a “Will and Grace” episode to be ready for him.Report

      • @russell-saunders Maybe? I guess it depends on just how right they are about the NFL culture.

        If one of the VPs of the Baltimore Ravens comes out and publicly admonishes his team for having had talks behind close doors about passing on a player until a lower round because that player is gay, is that man or woman* likely to remain a VP of the Baltimore Ravens? I suspect not long. The NFL is still a good-old-boys inside/outside-the-circle industry in a way few things are anymore.

        *Ha! No, seriously, he’s a man.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Also, if Vince Lombardi was ready, everyone needs to be:


        “When a Super Bowl-winning football coach found out he had a gay player in his locker room, this is what he reportedly told his assistants: “If I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”

        The coach was Vince Lombardi, and the year was 1969.”

        Also, everyone should be reading LZ Granderson. On this and all other issues.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Now, is an NFL locker room likely to be less supportive than many other places of a gay man? Probably.

        Well, I agree to the extent that coaches actively reinforce and cater to the homophobic margins. That’s why all this nonsense about “the heartbeat of a locker room is a very sensitive thing” is so damn infuriating. Like Conor Larkin in Trinity, I’ve had my fucking fill of locker sensitivity. If there isn’t enough leadership in a locker room to accommodate a gay person playing for the team as “openly gay”, then the heartbeat of the locker room isn’t sensitive, it’s uncontrollably erratic.Report

      • @kazzy As I said to Russell, maybe?

        The NFL is pretty good at getting stories and “evidence” out to NFL-beat reporters when they need to prove anything that is less than great PR is just the result of the silly media being silly.

        So, maybe that story isn’t apocryphal, and maybe it is really quite representative of the NFL as LZ Grandserson suggests? Just like maybe Richie Incognito calling rookies n**ger and f**got to toughen them up was simultaneously one bad egg and a sign of great football camaraderie that everyone heard in the pro-gay-and-African-American sentiments with which all NFL players knew they were intended? Or how studies really showed that repetitive concussions had no long-term ill effects for players, or no one in the NFL ever used steroids, and even if they did they weren’t really bad for you anyway?

        Like I say, maybe. But my observational history of the NFL over the years has made me automatically suspicious of stuff like this that always seems to magically appear and makes them look good whenever there’s even a whiff of potential bad PR.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I wonder if Grandersom himself might be trying to set the narrative. “Wait, you guys think the NFL hates gays? Let me tell you about a man named Vince Lombardi. Ya know, the guy whose name is on the trophy you all covet so much?” It’d be a smart move and one I wouldn’t put passed him.Report

      • The original Sports Illustrated piece is here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20140209/michael-sam-draft-stock/

        In what is surely a first, Colin Cowherd was actually on the money on this subject this morning (well, once you got past the bizarre discussion of Latino culture in baseball). He pointed out that the NFL is a league whose players are: (a) comparatively young, and (b) highly individualistic off the field. There’s actually little chance that Sam’s sexuality would form the pretext for a “distraction” in a decent team’s locker room – indeed, the fact that his teammates at Missouri have known for years and reached almost unprecedented heights for that program essentially proves this.

        The bigger issue is potentially with the GMs and executives, but Cowherd made the shockingly excellent point (in case you haven’t figured out, I normally hold Cowherd in the lowest of esteem) that if there’s a GM or executive who doesn’t think Sam can fit in, they’re a crappy GM who has no clue how to win in the NFL – in other words, they’re the teams that Sam wouldn’t want to play for under any circumstances. There’s an awful lot of truth to that, frankly – a GM that is that out of sync with his locker room is a GM that doesn’t know how to build a winning team.

        If his draft stock sinks a bit, it also doesn’t really make much of a difference to him with the rookie wage scale in place nowadays, as long as he gets drafted. Under the pay scale, the difference between a third and a seventh round pick over four years is only about $500,000 ($2.7 mil-$2.2 mil), which is almost entirely a function of the difference in signing bonus, which is close to nothing for a seventh rounder (admittedly, that signing bonus differential is a big deal since it’s guaranteed money). As long as he makes a roster out of training camp, he’ll be able to make up that difference in endorsements by virtue of his newfound celebrity status. The real money comes from being a first or early-to-mid second round pick, who get signing bonuses in excess of $1.5 million along with first year salaries between $800k and $5 million.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Mark, excellent points, both your and Cowherd’s. That SI story is the one I linked to last night on Kazzy’s thread, and I linked to it because it very clearly accounted for Sam’s projected draft location on NFL draft boards. Some of it had to do with size, some with phantom stats, etc. But the kicker was that NFL teams had discounted his value based on their awareness that he was openly gay in advance of his public announcement. They already knew and factored that in. The kicker on the kicker, tho, was that all the anonymous NFL coaches and executives kept saying that their worries were about Sam fitting into the locker room, that player culture is this very sensitive thing, etc blah blah. Which is just absurd, for the reasons you point out. Mizzou was #5 in the country last year. Apparently the locker room and coaching staff was fine. But it’s also one of those “I’m not homophobic but other people are and I’m worried about them” sort of things that ultimately exposes the speaker as a complete fool. Or worse.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Let’s also be VERY clear about something…

        If Sam’s presence caused locker room issues, than the problem is the person causing the issues, not Sam. That guy and those like him should be jettisoned if they can’t work with a gay teammate.Report

      • @russell-saunders Actually, having just reread that piece, I take it back. When I first read it, I thought I was reading whistle-blower comments, but I’m now realizing that was something I brought to that table, not the NF execs.

        So yeah. Screw those guys.Report

      • @mark-thompson It’s a little hard for me to reconcile Colin’s take on how the players don’t really care abut that stuff with everything we heard from so many players during the Richie Incognito brouhaha.Report

      • I do think that where he may have a problem is that he would best fit in somewhere with a Rex Ryan-style defense – essentially, the Jets or the Browns. Maybe the Bills if Jim Schwartz tries to maintain continuity after Mike Pettine’s departure for Cleveland. Those are teams that have a definite use for players with Sam’s physical size and ability – Jerry Hughes, who is Sam’s size and position as a first round pick but was a total bust in Indy, wound up with 46 tackles and 10 sacks as a situational player for the Bills under Pettine; prior to that, the Jets were able to salvage the similarly sized bust Aaron Maybin for at least a year, getting him to lead the team in sacks in 2011 before releasing him in 2012 (Maybin had some attitude problems that probably prevented him from reaching his admittedly limited potential).

        The trouble is that Pettine is a rookie head coach who, while someone that his players will go to war for, likely has limited influence within his organization – and the Browns upper management is not in a position to rock the boat right now because they’ve so alienated their fan base and their locker room. They pretty much need to keep a low profile over the next few months to buy Pettine some breathing room.

        Had Pettine stayed in Buffalo, Sam would have been a damn near perfect fit there – the team is now essentially being run by Russ Brandon, who’s young, bright, and a marketing machine, it’s GM is a young up and comer who’s not afraid to take risks, and its head coach is young and highly protective of his players. And, with Pettine as their Defensive Coordinator, Sam would be an ideal situational pass rusher. But with Pettine gone, it’s a big mystery as to how much continuity there will be in the scheme.

        In East Rutherford, meanwhile, Rex Ryan’s on razor thin ice and has already proved with the Tebow circus that he lacks the temperament necessary to keep media storms from becoming a problem for the team. Honestly, two or three years ago, the Jets would have been a perfect fit for Sam in a lot of ways – Rex’s job was safe, Sam fits Rex’s scheme well, and Rex tends to encourage his players’ individuality. But after Rex and the organization as a whole mismanaged the Tebow situation so horribly to the point that the GM got fired and Rex almost did, I suspect they’ll be gun shy about doing anything that would court another media circus, especially keeping in mind that no one does a media circus better than NY’s media.

        I don’t know New Orleans’ defense as well as Pettine’s and Rex Ryan’s, but I assume that Rob Ryan makes similar use of his personnel, so it’s possible that New Orleans would be a good destination.

        Beyond that, I’m just not sure what other teams have a history of relying heavily on otherwise undersized situational pass rushers.Report

        • ESPN reports:

          Before his announcement, Sam had already emerged as a divisive prospect. Some look at his SEC-best 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss and see a high-motor pass rusher who could go as high as the third round. Others see Sam, who is 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, as an undersized defensive end without a true position in the NFL. Of his 11.5 sacks, nine came in three games against what one scout called “garbage competition” — Vanderbilt, Arkansas State and Florida. “His numbers are inflated,” a scout said. “You’ve got to see through that.”

          Sounds like a decent guy to have on the D-line if you anticipate getting a read-option from the other side a lot. An NFC West team, for instance, or an AFC West team. Can Sam think fast enough to read through a Peyton Manning audible or Colin Kaepernick deciding to rush all of a sudden?Report

      • @tod-kelly I think the Incognito-Martin issue is a significantly different issue. In terms of the specifics of that situation, I’m still not sure we know anything approaching the full story, but regardless, the one thing that seems to be true is that the reason things continued for as long as they did with Martin was because he was perceived as not fighting back.

        That is by no means a justification for what happened. Instead, the point is that every indication is that the harassment of Martin was something that all Dolphins rookies had to endure, which would stop once the target stood up for himself. I strongly suspect that the defenders of the Dolphins’ locker room culture would say that the point of the hazing was to get rookies to be willing to fight for who they are, regardless of what that means. Indeed, I heard several players saying things equivalent to “you need to be able to fight for yourself if you’re going to be able to fight for your teammates.” Though this may be twisted logic, the point of it is that in the players’ minds, they’re trying to encourage individuality of a sort.

        Again, this is not a justification of what happened – instead, I’m just trying to differentiate between the situations.Report

      • @mark-thompson : “I think the Incognito-Martin issue is a significantly different issue. In terms of the specifics of that situation, I’m still not sure we know anything approaching the full story, but regardless, the one thing that seems to be true is that the reason things continued for as long as they did with Martin was because he was perceived as not fighting back.”

        Actually, I was going in a different direction.

        My point was that as players came out to defend Incognito, one of the common defenses was that veterans using words like “n**ger” (for black rookies) and “f**got” (for whites) is just a part of hazing is part of “locker room culture,” and that people outside of the NFL just don’t understand.

        And it’s hard for me to hold that in one hand and the idea that NFL players today are really tolerant of gays in the other.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:


        I think that “young people today” often have very different sensibilities about these things. They’re not necessarily right, but they might think about it differently than your or I. See this article about rapper Tyler the Creator, his use of the word “faggot”, and his relationship with Frank Ocean:


        tl;dr: Tyler sees faggot as being largely divorced from its context vis a vis homosexuality and thus feels free to use it while also having a close friend who is gay and whose sexuality he has no problem with.

        I know it seems mind boggling, but it is certainly possible that there exist folks who use the word “faggot” as a pejorative but who would not take issue with a gay teammate.Report

      • Quoth >Mike McCarthy:

        I think you definitely have to feel he’s a courageous young man but my understanding is he’s a talented young player. We always from Day 1 talked about our program, about our culture. Ted [Thompson] is going through the draft process right now and at the end of the day it comes down to good football players. Any player who can come here and be a good teammate and follow the rules of our program, which is one be respectful and produce on the football field, we have room for that guy.


        [T]he Packers would welcome anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, who could help the team improve on an 8-7-1 season that ended in a wild-card loss to the San Francisco 49ers. … One Sports Illustrated report on Sunday said the Packers might be a good fit for Sam. At 6-foot-1, 260 pounds, Sam projects as the undersized defensive end the Packers often seek to switch to outside linebacker for defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, but he is a bit short.

        And that’s what it really comes down to — at 6′ 1″, he’s a bit short but an undersized, strong defense end has a place in the 3-4 defense. His being out doesn’t matter. Which is as it should be. Now, as for how the Packers’ 3-4 defense is executing, I’m going to go ahead and say that’s not as it should be.Report

      • Tod – I gotcha now. I still don’t think I agree with that line of argument, for much the reason Kazzy lays out. Beyond that, though, context matters a lot: I think it’s really hard to say that the regular dropping of n-bombs in NFL locker rooms means that NFL locker rooms are intolerant of people of color. That’s not a defense of the culture, just a recognition that it exists and seems to be understood a particular way amongst those who seek to enter it and participate it.

        That’s not to say that there won’t be some players who will be hostile to having Sam in their locker room, and by no means am I saying that NFL locker rooms are likely to be particularly supportive of Sam’s sexuality. Additionally, I’m certain he’ll be subjected to a disturbing amount of verbal abuse from opposing fans and players on the field – though nothing approaching what Jackie Robinson went through 70 years ago.

        But for the overwhelming majority of players, I suspect it will be a non-issue having an openly gay player in their locker room.

        What’s more, because of their short career span, lack of guaranteed contracts, and Goodell’s penchant for handing out bad conduct suspensions, NFL players are almost uniquely image-conscious. They are also going to be keenly aware that wherever Sams winds up, the way he is treated is going to be under a microscope. And, at this point, even the most homophobic players have to be well aware that the tides of history aren’t just changing in favor of acceptance of gays, but instead have already changed in many ways. Under those circumstances, no one is going to want to be the guy who gets suspended or released because they singled the first openly gay player in American major sports history out for abuse because of his sexuality.

        What’s more, no one will want to go down in history as the Ben Chapman of gay rights: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Chapman_(baseball)#Jackie_RobinsonReport

  5. NewDealer says:

    I don’t really care for professional sports but a casual reading of a lot of journalism on sports suggests to me that sports is still really a place of old-school machismo and masculinity* and out-noted gender stereotypes. I agree with this Slate piece that says Sam’s move will either get the NFL to modernize or basically get them to say “we are a bunch of of retrograde bigots.”


    It also changes perceptions macho perceptions that homosexuality is effeminite and weak.

    *Semi-OT: But I think feminism and equality has been more successful in changing norms for women than it has been for men. This is largely the fault of men for not wanting to change perhaps. There is a lot of effort in making it more acceptable for women to be into “traditionally guy” things but I think there is still a bit of woe for the heterosexual guy who is more into art and culture over sports and manly things. A lot of my female friends seem very amused when their boyfriends do seemingly manly things but things I consider perplexing like jumping into a river in winter when it is absolutely freezing out. If people were meant to do this, we wouldn’t have invented central heating. Tough Mudders are also perplexing to me, why would you want to compete in an obstacle course with events with names like the Arctic Enema? Yet lots of guys seem to think successfully doing this proves they are manly and not made soft by modern society. Go get those saber toothed tigers!!!Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      Risk seeking behavior is not manly.
      Would you say that being conservative is feminine?Report

    • j r in reply to NewDealer says:

      *Semi-OT: But I think feminism and equality has been more successful in changing norms for women than it has been for men. This is largely the fault of men for not wanting to change perhaps.

      I agree with this, but I’m not sure why anyone is at fault or why anyone ought to change. There is a claim to be made that justice and morality demand that we not discriminate against other people on the basis of any number of counts, but justice and morality don’t demand that we all become sensitive pony-tail guys.

      I have a fairly traditional conception of masculinity, bordering on machismo in certain areas, and it doesn’t stop me from recognizing the humanity of women or gays. It is absurd to imply that I am somehow ethically deficient because I go into the gym a couple of times of weak to squat and deadlift heavy weights, don’t watch Glee, and could care less about Wilco.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:

        I consider myself to be masculine. I’m a guy and recognize myself as such.

        However, there are a seemingly endless amount of guy things that I don’t care about like professional sports, I am not much of a tinkerer, cars (slightly changing but not completely. Sports cars are nice but I think guy’s who say stuff like “that’s my car!” when a Ferrari rolls on by are kind of silly), video games, tough mudder, and the seeming need to prove that you can make it as a caveman.

        I reject the idea that masculine and masculinity is connected to manual labor, ultra-physicality, non-intellectual pursuits, etc. I reject masculinity as being a lowest common denominator kind of thing.

        Is it less masculine to have no desire to complete a tough mudder or jump in a river in January when it is snowing outside? Or is it just common sense? There seem to be a lot of guys who take Dare to be Stupid as a serious challenge to be met with honor. Being healthy is important but I can be healthy without doing a tough mudder or feeling a need to do one.

        A lot of guys (and maybe women as well) have this anxious feeling that technological progress and advancement is making them and/or humanity soft? We are losing our precious ability to be hunter gatherers (sarcasm). I see no problem with technology and progress making life easier and more pleasant but it seems to leave a lot of people with a feeling of severe existential dread.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        This is why I struggle with terms like masculine and feminine. If we are moving towards a viewpoint that anyone of any gender can like whatever they want, then don’t these terms cease to have much meaning? I know there are some different thoughts on the matter so I’m curious to hear what others think. As far as I see it, I’m a man. Anything I like is, thus, masculine. However, if a woman similarly likes those things, they also qualify as feminine. At which point it seems silly to label them as either. Just let people do what they will.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        In my circles we talk of “toxic masculinity,” which is when being manly goes horrible wrong. It can take your life. It can take other lives.

        I like to remind people, Fred Rogers was a man. The point seems lost on some folks.

        Much of the problem comes from oppositional sexism, the subtle notion that gender must be a dyad, that if men are X, then women must be not-X.

        So if men are strong then women must be weak.

        Never mind there are plenty of women stronger than the average man and plenty of men weaker than the average woman. Never mind that if we measure things other than maximum bench press, but look more to general agility and the ability to use your body to negotiate the physical world, that women do just fine and are plenty strong.

        If men are bold then women must be passive. If men are brave then women must be cowards. On and on. Bullshit piled on bullshit.

        It that how the genders actually work?

        Under these models of sexism, it is fairly obvious why a woman acting “male” (strong, brave, bold) is seen as more acceptable than a man acting “female” (weak, passive, cloying, etc.).

        The whole sex/gender system is a mess, from tip to tail.Report

      • j r in reply to j r says:

        I’m content to let individual men decide for themselves how masculine or not masculine they wish to be and what that word means for individual men. As always, I’m a fan of social norms being created from the bottom up and not from the top down.

        What I was reacting to is the idea that men ought to change in some arbitrary direction away from the traditional. There is no meaningful ethical argument you can make that me ought to steer clear of male gender stereotypes.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        Right. That is my point. I don’t see myself as weak or inferior for non-masculine for not wanting to compete in a tough mudder or similar event like jumping into a river in January when it is freezing. Nor do I consider myself feminine for caring more about theatre and art over sports. Nor am I feminine for being interested in clothing over cars. My mode of dressing is masculine and generally jeans or cords and button down shirt (usually solid colored or tartan) and I don’t feel a need to change this or be experimental. I’m pretty comfortable with who I am which is good because almost every other part of my brain thinks about the next thing and is not very good at living in the moment. I’m working on that, it is an inherited trait.

        The dyad/false binary concept is right on.

        Though most of the women I know are very liberal and all about fighting gender stereotypes but they seem to take an odd amount of pleasure in the fact that their “boys” do events like tough mudder or jump in a river in January. I do wonder if they partially and perhaps unconsciously feel that I am less masculine for thinking that kind of stuff is nuts.Report

      • Zane in reply to j r says:

        @j-r – I think the idea isn’t that you should be something you’re not… Actually, I guess the idea is you shouldn’t have to be something you’re not. For you, that means you’re comfortable with who you are. All good! But for many guys, the constant need to demonstrate masculinity is oppressive. We haven’t done much chipping at that particular wall as a culture.

        @veronica-dire – It’s true and awful that when discussions start about gender differences, so many don’t understand that the differences *among* men or *among* women are far greater than the differences *between* the genders taken as a whole.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        Concurred. I have been told that knowing how to hunt, use guns, and basic mechanic/carpentry work is necessary for a real man (TM). Often by guys. I find it interesting that masculinity is very much connected to a rural identity over an urban one and to skills that are kind of useless and becoming more so. Cars are a lot more complicated now than when I was a kid. I don’t think I could tinker in mine without voiding the warranty or needing diagonostic tools and a computer.

        There are still a lot of guys who practice tool-box masculinity and claim anything less is not manly.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        Yes, the good Pastor Rodgers received death threats for “feminizing” little boys.
        I’m sure he continued to receive them on his deathbed.

        A man, indeed — someone strong enough to stand up for children, and create
        a world where they can play Make Believe.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        I think everyone ought to know how to use a hammer. And a screwdriver.
        Of course, I assembled my computer from parts. And it was cheaper, and better
        than buying it off the shelf.

        A simple knowledge of home repair will save you hundreds of dollars over the course of owning a home.

        An advanced knowledge of fluid dynamics will save you twenty grand, at least.

        I don’t maintain that folks should know home repair to be “manly” (wtf that means). I maintain that to be frugal, one ought to learn how to remove hairclogs from a drain without using liquid plumber.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


        I agree. I take seriously my role as a male role model to my students. I make sure they see me in a variety of roles, including those we might consider traditionally masculine and those we might consider not. If boys want to play with dolls, cool! But it’s just as cool if they want to play with trucks. I just try to let them know the choices is theirs.


        I generally shy away from language like, “Be a man!” But when I do use it, I use it very differently than is common. I don’t mean, “Be tough. Be strong. Don’t cry.” I mean, “Be responsible. Be accountable.” To me, “being a man” is more about maturation and growth than it is about a penis. I use the term similarly if I’m referring to someone as being “a woman” though the phrasing tends to be different there.Report

      • switters in reply to j r says:


        Like JR said, I’m fine with men and women determining on their own what they think is masculine or feminine and how much of each they choose to embrace. Be who you want to be and you’ll be happy, or at least as happy as you can be, is what I always say. You claim to agree, yet you can’t help yourself from condescending to the car-guys, or the tough mudder runner, or the river jumper (or the gals or guys that like them), and you claim, by implication, that a personal preference for manual labor or physicality over intellectual pursuits is a “lowest common denominator” kind of thing. Rather than seeking liberation from the existing structure by liking what you like, it appears that you simply want to create an alternate structure more aligned with your own preferences. Is that really any better?

        I love sports, played them all my life. I’ve also come to appreciate the arts, although later in life. I hang with a bunch of different groups that each tends to appreciate one over the other. For the most part, certainly the ones I’d call my friends, they’re all pretty respectful of others’ tastes. Sure there are guys that might look down on a theatre loving guy, but there are also any number of high minded intellectuals that might scoff at one’s appreciation for river jumps, tough mudders and manual labor. Rather than choosing to be above it all, you choose to be a part of the latter group. Why?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        Wait… what’s wrong with running Tough Mudders?Report

      • veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        So here is some meta-analysis:

        Queer utopia is nowhere in sight, so acting as if we even could in a million years “just be who are” or “do what we like” without appeal to the overwhelming power of cultural gender norms is preposterous.

        Everything I do with regard to my gender is a strange combination of some kind of mysterious inner drive toward something-I-might-as-well-call femininity and all the social contexts in which I act this out. And this is not because I’m trans. You all are on this same ride. (Maybe I’m sitting the back car or something.) We’re all on the same track, hurling out of control.

        Know this: the power of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, its contradictions, its violence, the rejections of same, the false attempts to stand above, the yawning sense of insecurity, assuaged only (it seems) by raw expressions of disdain and power, and the disdain that is returned, all go round in round in a little game.

        Threads like this are the best we can do.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to j r says:

        @j-r @switters @newdealer @kazzy @veronica-dire

        I like this thread a lot, and agree with the consensus that began with jr’s comment.

        It occurs to me more and more that on some level people resent living in a pluralistic society. It isn’t enough that jr respect others, he has to be just like who ever is on today’s soapbox.

        I see this a lot when things like marriage and childrearing come up. “Wives should be X!!!” “Husbands should be Y!!!” You don’t see a lot of people saying, “Being Y is different from what I would want, but that’s ok — just make sure your future spouse is cool with it.”Report

      • NewDealer in reply to j r says:


        I generally think you are right. Modernity causes a lot of problems and so does a multi-cultural pluralistic society. People are going to be doing lots of things that make you (generalized) morally and ethically queasy but are perfectly within the realms of acceptability.

        This is why cities can be very fraught places to live sometimes. Cities are jammed packed with different socio-economic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. My brother (LeeEsq) lives in a section of Brooklyn that spent most of her history being the home of poor immigrants: First the Irish, then the Jews, then Eastern European Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Hispanics sharing the neighborhood with the Haredi. Now you have a strong influx of young 20-somethings and upper-middle class and above people (largely white and Asian and vaguely secular) who can afford down payments on multi-million dollar condos and turn formally shaby working class houses into million dollar ones. Plus the values are different. The younger crowd does not go to shul or church. They go to brunch on Sunday and stay out later at bars. They bring in different stores.

        So this is why diversity usually seems to concentrate on non-controversial things like music, food, and dancing. These things are pleasant to almost everyone and help us forget that different cultures and groups often have radically different ideas about what is moral and ethical.Report

      • Patrick in reply to j r says:


        It occurs to me more and more that on some level people resent living in a pluralistic society.

        Only just now?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


        I wonder to what extent people’s struggles with pluralism are because they lack a certain … I dunno… self-confidence? It is as if they need their choices affirmed. Someone likes something different from me? What does that say about me and my likes? Am I inferior? Are my preferences? Am I *gasp* wrong? I think a lot of people erroneously employ this type of thinking when discussing matters of preference. It is not enough that they have the freedom to choose for themselves. They must somehow have their choices affirmed by the world at large.

        I don’t care much for this line of thinking. You think how I dress, what I eat, and where I spend my free time are silly? Great! That means more for me.

        But I’m a callous prick who doesn’t know what self-doubt is. I would think that way.Report

  6. Mo says:

    Pro Football Talk has an interesting case that some teams may overdraft Sam because of positive PR and to paper over other controversies (examples were Dolphins and bullying, Washington and their name, Vikings and their special teams coach). Another point they make is that some GMs/coaches would love to be the Branch Rickey of the NFL and this is a way to do that.


  7. Zane says:

    I just had a conversation with one my colleagues about this. She’s a very supportive mother of an adult son who is gay. She’s a football fan and was excited to hear the news about Michael Sam. But she also said that she is a little tired that gay people have to be mentioned all the time. She said that every novel she reads these days has a gay best friend to the protagonist. She was aware enough to say “I probably feel that way because I’m not gay, though. I don’t really know just how it is.”

    I responded something along the lines of what Russell wrote here. I also said that people coming out will be a big deal until it’s no longer a big deal. That is, when it’s of no interest to anyone, we’ll know how much better things are.

    I think that it’s hard for many to realize just how overwhelmingly “straight” everything is. Almost every movie, book, video game, sports story, song, etc. is about straight people. It’s nice to see one’s self represented sometimes. And when straight folks say, “gays are everywhere now”, I think to myself that they have no idea what ubiquity actually is. Sometimes people say, “why do you have to talk about it all the time?” They don’t really think through how any mention of my partner is about being gay but talking about their spouse is somehow not about being straight. In a perfect world, we’d just be talking about the people in our lives. But we’re not there yet.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Zane says:

      That sounds suspiciously like the concept that we usually shorthand with the word “privilege.” And you’re exactly right about it.

      What I wonder is how much Richie Incognito’s hazing of Jonathan Martin, including the plentiful use of slurs for gay men, has to do with the massive “meh” that Mr. Sam’s coming out elicits — if it’s clearly wrong to have hazed Jonathan Martin using gay slurs, when it appears that Mr. Martin is not even gay himself, then that may be a milepost signifying that people are moving closer to the “Oh, you’re gay? That’s nice, but how fast can you run forty yards?” sort of attitude.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Zane says:

      Awesome comment.Report

    • Chris in reply to Zane says:

      Heteronormativity ain’t just a river in E… wait, no, that doesn’t work. But yeah, that’s well put, while avoiding the words that make some people cover their ears and yell “Nah nah nah nah nah nah” when such phenomena are brought up.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Zane says:

      And when straight folks say, “gays are everywhere now”, I think to myself that they have no idea what ubiquity actually is.

      + bunches.Report

    • veronica dire in reply to Zane says:

      Well, this came across my feed today:


      I think it speaks to the same point. (And read that whole blog. You won’t regret it.)Report

      • Zane in reply to veronica dire says:

        I trundled off to read it, veronica dire, and it was good. Anyone who quotes Audre Lourde and likes comics has my interest. But wow! The wallpaper on that page! It was hard work to actually read it. Regret or not, I’m not sure I’m up to it.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to veronica dire says:

        The race of the character doesn’t matter unless or until you want to make a traditionally white character non-white. Good God, does it suddenly matter then! Especially if it’s Jesus, who wasn’t actually white but it just works so much better when he is.

        Also, how many white folks go see Tyler Perry movies? How many straight people are watching “Looking”? How many men watched “Sex and the City”? While there are plenty of good reasons why individuals might make those choices, I struggle to accept that all of them are and none of them have to do with representation.

        Good find, V.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to veronica dire says:

        @zane — I blame Tumblr, but yeah. Her blog deserves a better design.

        @kazzy — If this stuff interests you, follow that blog. She is a consistently insightful voice.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to veronica dire says:

        Jesus, who wasn’t actually white

        I’m a relative of his, both by tradition and by modern genetic analysis, and I have to tell you, I’m pretty damned white.Report

      • Kim in reply to veronica dire says:

        Yeah, it’s called inbreeding.
        (actually, more traceable is the amount of cross-breeding between Jews and Caucasians).Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Zane says:

      En fuego, Zane. I had this argument with my mom about a fellow teacher who was out and proud. “Why does he have to flaunt it?”
      “What do you mean?”
      “He’s got pictures of his partner up and won’t stop talking about his upcoming wedding.”
      “Yea, ‘cuz straight people never do that.”
      “But it’s different.”
      “No. It’s not.”

      I once saw a speaker talk about how he was a flaming heterosexual. It was a really interesting way to think about all this.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        One thing I would point out is that there are cases where people would criticize straight couples and straight behavior for similar behavior that gay folks are sometimes criticized for. PDA comes to mind. And this is okay, provided that (a) said criticizer is equally likely to make a comment about a straight couple* and (b) it’s about the behavior, not about what “those gays do.”

        * – It’s not enough to say “I don’t like it when straight people do it either” (after the fact, when called on it). If you bite your tongue when you see straight couples do it but not when you see gay couples do it, you’re part of the problem and if you’re concerned about equality, you should work on that.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Oh, certainly. It is when the “But it’s just different” defense gets trotted out. If the acts are the same, the actors are essentially irrelevant.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        These are all classic issues with having a marked identity. When applied to us, stereotypes are sticky. When applied to unmarked identities, stereotypes seem odd and are greeted with skepticism.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        There is also the extent to which we describe a behavior unrelated to the marked identity as just that because of the presence of a marked identity.

        “Asians are terrible drivers!”
        “I’ve had three or four near accidents with Asians.”
        “Damn! How many have you had with white drivers?”
        “I dunno. Maybe the same? I don’t really notice.”
        “Well, I guess white drivers are terrible, too!”

      • Zane in reply to Kazzy says:

        Kazzy, both a marked identity and the ever-unhelpful confirmation bias. Neither of which work in a vacuum.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I can’t remember who I first heard say it, but I am really interested in the idea that white people succeed as a group and fail as individuals while people of color succeed as individuals and fail as a group. Though I would expand that to include most (if not all) folks with marked identities.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to Kazzy says:


        Are you familiar with the concept of percentages?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yes, @scarletnumbers . How does that relate to what I said?Report

      • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

        After reading this series of comments, I’ve concluded @kazzy has a great future a straight man.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

        White people greatly outnumber Asians in the US generally, and in almost all locales in the US. Unless someone lives in a heavily Asian neighborhood, being involved in the same number of crashes with white people and Asians is evidence (albeit probably not statistically significant evidence) for the proposition that Asians are bad at driving.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

        Although, in point of fact, Asians have by far the lowest rate of highway fatalities. Of course, this doesn’t take into account miles driven, who was at fault, or non-fatal crashes. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some basis for the stereotype due to the fact that historically, many Asians have been adult immigrants from countries where car ownership is not particularly common.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

        I can’t remember who I first heard say it, but I am really interested in the idea that white people succeed as a group and fail as individuals while people of color succeed as individuals and fail as a group.

        But this isn’t true. There are successful minority groups, and members of those groups are expected to succeed, and their failure to do so is seen as an individual failure. In fact, I’ve seen racial activists complain about this when it comes to Asians. Apparently it’s only a privilege when it happens to white people.

        Also, isn’t “succeed as a group and fail as individuals” just another way of saying that members of successful groups get no individual credit for success, but get individual blame for failure?Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

        How it works


      • Darwy in reply to Kazzy says:

        This is the argument I had with a friend of mine

        That it’s somehow ‘different’ when gay couples kiss in public, or hold hands, or have a picture of their S.O on their desk, etc.


        People (gay, straight, bi – poly or whatever) are people, period.

        We (people) share the same habits, peccadilloes, etc regardless of sexual orientation. There isn’t a damn thing different between two women talking about their upcoming nuptials as opposed to a man and a women discussing theirs. It’s two people deciding how they want to celebrate their marriage together, period.

        If holding hands in public is flaunting my sexuality, then so be it. I’m not holding my Mr’s hand for the benefit of anyone other than US. I’ll encourage anyone to ‘flaunt’ themselves in that manner so that they and their partner are happy.

        That’s what it comes down to – being happy, IMO. Something everyone deserves.Report

  8. NewDealer says:


    Re: Tough Mudders.

    Starting down here. I don’t think there is anything wrong with them. It just seems that based on what I’ve read, a lot of people do them with some feelings or thoughts that modern life and technology make people soft and the way we need to prove ourselves is through doing ultra-messy obstacle courses with events like Arctic Enema.

    Also, I’m tired of listening to hype/marketing/motivational speech along the lines of “If you can do a tough mudder, you can do and accomplish anything.” This is not true and I am fine with my more intellectual accomplishments and don’t feel a need to prove otherwise by doing an event like the arctic enema.

    My main fascination is not with tough mudders but with people who use events like that because modern society leaves them uneasy especially things that make life easier and more pleasant like central heating and not needing fireplaces in every room or office jobs instead of most people doing grueling physical labor. Life is better with technology than without it but it also seems to make us feel uneasy about ourselves.

    It seems that people are aloud to claim pride in physical acts whether doing a tough mudder or furniture making but intellectual accomplishments are supposed to be kept quiet or they seem braggy and elitist. I feel like society presents a message that on needs to be modest about something like multiple graduate school degrees but you can be a complete braggart about completing tough mudders or running a marathon. Why is this? Why isn’t a thesis an accomplishment worth bragging about and seen as making others feel bad?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      Hahaha, with all due respect, I think you’ve thought about Tough Mudders far more than I. And I’ve done two.

      I do them because they’re fun. They challenge me mentally, physically, and emotionally. They require teamwork and camaraderie, two things I greatly enjoy.

      There is no shortage of people who do them and recognize them as the ultimate first world problem: our weekday lives are so easy and plush that we pay exorbitant sums to get sprayed with a hose in 30-degree weather. Folks who approach it this way don’t think it fills some hole created by modern life like some sort of legally sanctioned Fight Club. Rather, they’re just something different to try.

      I don’t doubt that there exist people exactly as you’ve described. But I dare say that you are extrapolating a handful of experiences into a broader theory on the world. If you are proud of your thesis, you should share that pride with the world. If you are listening to people telling you otherwise, you’re listening to the wrong people.Report