So, Michael Sam got drafted by the St. Louis Rams, and everyone has an opinion about it—even people who don’t care about sports. There are a bunch of Facebook and Twitter statuses that prove two things: There are a lot of people who fail to realize that everyone doesn’t subscribe to their faith. And, people automatically correlate their faith with morals. If a person’s religion is the only reason they have morals, there is a lack somewhere in their life, but they should figure that out sooner or later.
I’m sure there are a lot of open Christian athletes that were drafted into the NFL these past few days. There have always been openly Christian athletes and plenty of them to look up to, but kids who don’t subscribe to the Christian faith or who identify as gay need great role models too. It gives them hope that a million other kids see every day. The outrage deep down isn’t a gay athlete; it’s simply that it forces the ignorance to be louder than the conversations people have tried drowning by simply not talking about it.
That never works.
Growing up, I was one of those kids that didn’t have a role model I could identify with beyond being a girl and black. I mean, there were plenty of those. When I realized that my dislike of boys was more than just an adolescent thing, and discovered what it meant to be gay, I wanted (read needed) someone to look up to. My parents, albeit great people, weren’t the only role models I needed. No one in mainstream media looked like me and gave me something to not feel… different.
What was gay? Was I the only one? Was something wrong with me? There were only hetero-couples and people plastered everywhere. So, of course, in the back of my head, it just couldn’t be, but then something changed.
Fast forward to 1997. I was all of 10 years old and in the 5th grade. Ellen DeGeneres had just come out, and it was this big thing. Ellen. A celebrated woman in media came out and let everyone in the world know that she was gay, but she wasn’t accepted. So, for kids like me, if she came out and she wasn’t accepted by people that loved her before they knew she wasn’t hetero, then what was a kid learning who she was supposed to do?
Ellen’s coming out was something that needed to happen. It started conversations that people didn’t want to talk about. That was almost 20 years ago, and although the world has changed, it hasn’t changed much because the same conversation Ellen’s coming out started, didn’t finish it. People still don’t know how to talk about “gay.” People still don’t understand acceptance. People still tend to think that it’s an “agenda” trying to be forced upon them. Most importantly, the media doesn’t know how to not sensationalize gay.
Michael Sam being the 1st openly gay NFL draftee is big. It’s forcing conversations people have tried to ignore. It’s forcing people to reevaluate a lot of things. More importantly, it is giving kids who are learning who they are to understand that they aren’t alone. They can be who they are without sacrificing and explore those things that interest them. It is letting a kid who thinks that because he or she is this, he or she can’t be that.
Being gay is only a sum of the whole part of who people are. When the circus quiets down and the smoke clears, the same thing that’s made Ellen—once a again, a household name, widely accepted gay woman—will make Michael Sam, hopefully, the same in his profession. Not simply for being the first of his kind, but for simply being the first one to decide that suppressing one’s identity wasn’t an option to be accepted for another.