If you watched the ESPN coverage of Michael Sam getting picked by the St. Louis Rams late in the 7th round of the NFL draft on Saturday, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you starting to cringe don’t worry. I am a big fan of the gay community, I have several gay friends, I am a huge supporter of gay marriage, and I believe very strongly in equal rights for all. Yes, I realize this is a VERY sensitive subject, but I’ve never been one to shy away from sensitive subjects on this blog. That being said what I witnessed on Saturday was a bit over the top in my opinion.I get it. Michael Sam is the first “openly gay” player ever to be drafted to an NFL roster (or any roster of the 4 major U.S. professional sports for that matter). This was no doubt a huge moment in the history of sports and society as a whole. Just like it was a huge moment when current NBA player, Jason Collins, came out in public about his homosexuality. I truly hope this encourages more athletes (past, present, & future) to come out and be comfortable with their homosexuality (Mike Piazza – I’m talking to you J). I obviously have no problem with any of that. You are who you are and should NEVER be ashamed of it under any circumstances. What I do have a problem with is how ESPN covered it. It was in a word contrived.
You could tell they’d been waiting all day for it. When the end of the 7th round finally arrived and there were just a handful picks left in the draft, you could visibly see they were sweating it (just think of the missed ratings opportunity). But then the Rams selected Michael Sam with the 249th pick in the draft and it was game on (queue the gay parade). They first showed footage of a gay bar in West Hollywood erupting with jubilation (stereotype much?), and then cut to Michael Sam getting the call from Rams Head Coach, Jeff Fisher. He was overcome with emotion which was actually quite touching. At first he innocently kissed his boyfriend (a scrawny, little white guy – didn’t see that coming) which was no big deal. But then things took a turn and got decidedly awkward. The uncomfortable silence of the ESPN commentators said it all. Michael Sam fed a piece of cake to his boyfriend (like they were at a wedding) and then smeared it all over his face. They kissed several more times, rather inappropriately for a family show in my opinion, and then proceeded to lick the cake off each other’s faces. What the hell? I know what you’re thinking but it’s not because it was two dudes. Seriously, I would no more rather see AJ McCarron (drafted in the 5th round) lick cake off his hot girlfriend, Katherine Webb’s face, or Johnny Manziel (drafted in the 1st round) lick cake off whatever random stripper’s face he’s dating this week, than see Michael Sam lick cake off his pasty boyfriend’s face. It just simply wasn’t an appropriate time or place for it. And had it not been Michael Sam (the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL) and his boyfriend, ESPN never would have shown it. As I watched in disbelief it struck me as a very shameless thing for ESPN to broadcast in that moment.
Maybe I don’t understand the complexities of this issue because I’m not gay myself. Or maybe what they showed on television was completely tasteful and I have some deep-seeded homophobia that I need therapy for. Both of these scenarios are entirely possible if not likely. But I think the point Michael Sam and Jason Collins are trying to make by coming out is that they’re no different than anyone else in their respective sports. They are men and they are professional athletes first, who just happen to be gay. If this is indeed the point they are trying to make, ESPN sure didn’t help their cause with the display they put on Saturday. Congratulations to Michael Sam for realizing his life-long dream of playing in the NFL (assuming he makes the team), but moving forward can we please put the focus where it belongs, on the football field?