The American sports world is all riled up again – and as usual, over nothing important. Michael Sam, a 24-year-old senior defensive lineman football player at the University of Missouri, recently announced that he’s a practicing homosexual. Sam has garnered a number of accolades for his athletic ability, including All-American Player and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards. But, his unapologetic admission to being gay has steered the conversation to a prospect more horrifying to many heterosexual men than erectile dysfunction and forgetting to order flowers on Valentine’s Day: there’ll be a damn queer in the locker room!
Professional sports in the U.S. is rife with unsavory characters and devious antics. Like their counterparts in the entertainment world, career athletes seem to have a penchant for nefarious behavior in the public arena. Former baseball player Darryl Strawberry had a long history of drug use, which – coupled with documented assaults on his first wife – eventually derailed his career. Key word: eventually. Despite his troubles, team owners and coaches kept giving him second chances. His high batting averages appeared to gloss over the awful reality of his self-destruction.
The late Wilt Chamberlain, a legendary figure in basketball, once claimed to have slept with over 20,000 women. His lawyer, Seymour Goldberg, declared that Chamberlain “collected women” the way some people collect stamps. His nickname, “The Big Dipper,” came about because he often had to duck his 7’1” frame downward when he entered doorways. But, the moniker obviously sported a more salacious definition when rumors of his romantic escapades began circulating in the media.
One of the most brutal stories of a professional athlete’s incorrigible behavior involves Rae Carruth, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. In November of 1999, Carruth ordered a friend to murder his then-girlfriend, Cherica Adams, who was eight months pregnant. Two years earlier Carruth had lost a paternity suit and, apparently reluctant to support yet another unwanted child, he tried convincing Adams to have an abortion. When she refused, he allegedly planned to have her beaten up so she’d miscarry. After that failed, he went further and set up the hit. The two met for a date at a movie theatre. They left in separate cars, with Adams following Carruth. Another vehicle drove up beside Adams, and a man later identified as a friend of Carruth fired four shots. Adams crashed and, despite her injuries, managed to dial 911 from her cell phone. Doctors were able to save the 8-month-old male fetus. Adams later scribbled notes for police officials describing the sequence of events and clearly implicated Carruth in the crime. Carruth had told investigators he’d turn himself into police if Adams died. When she finally succumbed to her injuries a month later, Carruth fled. Fortunately, he was caught and convicted of murder in 2000, along with his three accomplices. But, from the start, sports writers and Carruth fan were willing to give Carruth the benefit of the doubt.
In December 2012, Josh Brent, a Dallas Cowboys player, was involved in a drunk driving wreck that killed his fellow teammate and best friend, Jerry Brown. The two had patronized a strip club and consumed large amounts of alcohol, when Brent lost control of his Mercedes. Police officers arriving at the scene found Brent trying to pull Brown from the fiery crash. A blood-alcohol test on Brent measured 0.18, more than twice the legal limit in Texas. Brent’s defense attorneys tried to claim that his 320-pound frame could handle that much booze, which was roughly equal to 17 mixed drinks. Amidst such trauma, however, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones refused to terminate Brent’s contract until after the trial. But, the ultimate shame in this tragedy came when Judge Robert Burns announced Brent’s sentence – 180 days in jail and 10 years’ probation.
There are countless other stories of professional athletes abusing their wives or girlfriends; committing sexual assault; driving drunk; beating up friends and neighbors; and / or using illegal narcotics. But, if you listen to the rhetoric over Michael Sam, you’d think his sexuality was as criminal as those of the aforementioned athletes. In professional sports, it’s apparently okay for a man to beat the crap out of his wife. In fact, many people just seem to want to shove that under the rug of illicit behavior.
But, said athlete admits that he’s gay? Well, suddenly he’s crossed the line. We can’t have that. We can’t have any fags in the shower. The same argument has been used before in the U.S. military. It was a basis for the compromise over the pathetic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted in 1994. Until it was repealed in 2011, more people were booted out of the military for being gay or lesbian than for being fat.
In the narrow minds of bigotry, some transgressions are inexcusable. Homosexuality is among them. Unless Michael Sam has forced someone into a sexually compromising position (and that’s almost always an accusation, especially towards gay men), people should focus more on his athletic abilities and his difficult upbringing than his sexual predilections. He lost one brother to gun violence; another brother has been missing since 1998; and two more of his brothers are imprisoned. At one point, he and his mother lived in her car. Sam is the first member of his family to attend college. It’s unlikely he decided to pursue a football career so he can scope out guys in the locker room. Anyone who visits a locker room (or public restroom, for that matter) to pick up dates needs to get their ass kicked anyway.
Here’s another thing: men look at one another’s genitalia in the locker room. Every man does; if he denies it, he’s either lying, or he’s dead. It’s not a stare, or a gape; it’s just a casual glance to see if they measure up. Every man is concerned about his penis size at some point in his life. And, every woman is just as concerned about her butt and hip size during some internal squabble with her internal self. We humans all just want to be – and look – normal. Being gay or lesbian doesn’t cross the invisible line – but, staring does. And, that’s just not going to happen very often.
Personally, I’m not a football fan, so I’d never heard of Michael Sam until this faux issue arose. And, I certainly don’t plan to follow his career should be become the first openly-gay professional player in American football history. I have more important concerns. So should everyone else.
Local Dallas / Fort Worth sports anchor Dale Hansen tells it like it is.