The past week has been nothing short of incredible. A few days ago, University of Missouri Defensive Lineman, Michael Sam
announced to the world that he is gay. Sam, a native of Hitchcock, Texas, was named Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC (college football’s strongest conference) in 2013 and is expected to be an early pick in this year’s NFL draft. Sam’s “coming out” was not news to his fellow Mizzou teammates or coaches. He told them last August before the start of the 2013 season. In an interview with the New York Times last week, Sam said that he decided to come out publicly now, before the draft, because he wanted to control the way the story was told and avoid the inevitable rumors about his sexuality. Regardless of his reason, Michael Sam showed amazing courage and personal integrity by being open and honest about who he is.
As if that weren’t enough, on Tuesday of this week, Dale Hansen, a long-time local sports anchor with WFAA-TV in Dallas talked about Michael Sam’s decision to come out in his “Unplugged” segment on the 10:00pm news. Hansen is a somewhat controversial figure locally and isn’t afraid to say exactly what he thinks. So, when I realized he was about to talk about Michael Sam I cringed just a bit, but I heard him out and boy….am I glad I did.
“I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay; I don’t understand his world. But I do understand that he’s part of mine.” ~Dale Hansen
My jaw almost hit the floor! If I’d been guessing what he would say — and being optimistic — I would’ve guessed some lack-luster touting of Michael Sam’s incredible athletic prowess, or maybe a ‘live and let live’ approach. In owning the truth that he’s not always comfortable when a man tells him that he is gay, but that he understands that man is still part of his world, is a validation of the basic human right to live, to be authentic, and to be happy! The comments on WFAA’s Facebook post were overwhelmingly supportive. There were, of course, a few that weren’t, but by and large Dale received kudos and a great deal of gratitude. On a personal note – I was blown away and moved nearly to tears. Hansen’s segment has now gone viral and has been picked up by national media outlets like Salon, The Huffington Post, The New York Daily News, NBC News, and many others. Rightfully so! In just 2 minutes, Dale Hansen demolished the NFL and its unnamed “officials” quoted in Sports Illustrated for their ridiculous reaction to the Michael Sam story.
Now for the real reason I wrote this….
While I was reading through the comments on the WFAA Facebook page, I ran across several like these:
“Why can’t your private life remain private & you just play the game? Why did he have to “come out?” Problems start when people make an issue of their personal lives & ask everyone to “be ok” with it. Some of us will never “be ok” with it — we will respect you as a human, but because you’ve put that label on your forehead, we cease to see you as just a football player, but as a political lightning rod. You have to remember that for many of us conservative Christians, it’s not about how you love, it’s about who you have sexual relations with. While I wish him well, I also wish people would learn to just not divulge things we really don’t care to know.”
“why did he come out ???? it has nothing to do with sports and we don’t have to know who he is sleeping with —-it is sad that his performance is based on who he sleeps with —we don’t have to know others players sexual preferences do we ???? why his —”
I have to admit that, even as a gay man, I have evolved on the notion of “coming out” being important. My acceptance of my own sexuality has been a long, complicated, and sometimes messy process. Once upon a time I, too, thought that coming out publicly was unnecessary. However, that has all changed now. The reasons for the change in my personal opinion on the matter of coming out are two-fold. First, staying silent about my sexuality kept me locked in a prison of deception. Not being honest about myself meant having to sneak around, hide, and lie to people I love. That simply wasn’t good for me anymore and coming out freed me from that burden. More importantly, however, my opinion changed because of some kids.
Over the past few years we’ve heard stories from around the country and around the world about kids who take their own lives because they were harassed for being gay. (I don’t use the word ‘bullied’ anymore because its lost it’s meaning. Bullying is harassment, no doubt about it.) When kids started hanging themselves, and shooting themselves, and taking drug overdoses, and finding other ways to hurt themselves I finally got why coming out is so terribly important. The only way that these young people who are tormented simply because of who they are will ever be saved is for those of us who are older and who have already been through the fires of adolescence to speak up and speak out. When we open our mouths and say, “I’m gay” we open the door to a world of hope for a young person who’s been locked inside a world of hatred. Being honest — COMING OUT — allows them to see in real life that they are worthy of love and life.
So, when people ask why it’s important that Michael Sam came out publicly, I say because of the kids. Maybe that wasn’t his reason for doing it when he did, but whether he realizes it or not, he saved lives! He saved the life of that high school football player who is gay. He saved the life of that high school softball player who is lesbian. He saved the life of that band member who is bi-sexual; and he saved the life of that transgendered kid that nobody seems to see because they hide in the shadows. Coming out is important because coming out saves lives!
I’m not the best gay man in the world. In fact, some of my beliefs and opinions rub a lot of gay people the wrong way. But, I stand in complete solidarity with my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in knowing that the only way to end the hatred and the only way to get to the day when it really DOESN’T matter is to speak up and speak out. I hope and pray that Michael Sam’s courageous choice to come out publicly when he did will open the doors for the homosexual athletes already playing the game and those who’ve yet to begin their careers to do the same.
No more hiding. No more shame. No more fear.