Veiled Bigotry

Opponents of equality are hiding behind their dog whistles.

Missouri senior defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to the media during a news conference in Irving, Texas on Jan. 1, 2014. Sam says he is gay, and he could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.

Missouri senior defensive lineman Michael Sam may be picked lower in the NFL draft after revealing he is gay.


A "distraction."

That’s what University of Missouri football player Michael Sam is now being called as he awaits to see how (and if) he will be drafted into the National Football League. The game-changing factor is that Sam recently announced he is gay.

As the Washington Post’s Kent Babb notes, Sam’s standing as an NFL prospect went from number 90 on Sunday to 160 the next day – with the only discernable reason being that Sam had publicly come out. He had already revealed his sexual orientation to his college team, which apparently wasn’t spooked or even "distracted" by it, seeing as the team had an impressive 12-2 season.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Sam, if drafted, would be the first openly gay player in any of the four major American professional sports. Surely, he would not be the only gay member. So what’s the problem? The NFL has had domestic abusers, gun law violators, serial racist bullies, a dog torturer and, for good measure, someone accused of one murder and suspected in two other deaths. If being gay is a distraction for NFL brass or players, they’ve got their priorities pretty screwed up.

It’s become impolite (except on the Internet) to make overtly bigoted comments in the media. So you rarely hear anyone saying gay or female servicemembers simply won’t be man enough to shoot someone in a war zone, or that an African-American or female candidate isn’t smart or reasonable enough to be president. Instead, people cloak their bigotry by pretending to step out of the situation and declaring that the culture at large simply can’t handle it. It’s not that the speakers themselves are sexist or racist or homophobic – nope, it’s just the world in which we live.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the 2014 Sochi Olympics.]

So you have newspapers and magazines and TV pundits asking – hypothetically, of course – if the nation is "ready" for a black or female commander-in-chief. Those remarks are actually more insulting and insidiously bigoted than simply saying the non-male, non-white candidates don’t deserve to be in charge. The contention is that somehow this is a matter of national maturity and emotional development. It’s not that we’re biased; it’s that we’re still in our cultural adolescence. The hysteria over having gay or female soldiers was always rooted in the idea that integrating the troops would affect unit "cohesion" – another way of saying they don’t want to have to work alongside anyone who doesn’t look or act like them.

The only thing that rivals the hatred and bigotry of the anti-Sam contingent is the sheer cowardice. If you simply can’t handle the idea that the ability to sack a quarterback is not inexorably linked to one’s attraction to the other sex, then have the fortitude to say so. Don’t call it a "distraction."