Okay, so here’s the deal. Lets use this one comic to get out all of the Michael Sam discussion. It’s too big an issue to not address, but over exposure can get tiresome and very irritating even if you feel strongly about a subject. Plus, I’m sure you all want me to make fun of Johnny Manziel as if his face doesn’t do enough of that already. So lets treat this as the Michael Sam discussion zone. I’ll give you all my thoughts on Sam right here and do my best to not bring it up in the future as much as possible.

So I was hoping Michael Sam would just get drafted in the late rounds, we’d get the expected bigotry and the expected articles about how progressive everyone is, how great the team that drafted him is, and all that. That’s kind of what has happened. But on twitter the day he got drafted there was a lot of discussion about him kissing his boyfriend. While a lot of it was standard bigotry, there was a discomforting amount of “I have no issues with gay people BUT” statements. It got me rather irritated.

It’s maddening because if you are smart and socially conscious just a little, you realize that any statement like that automatically qualifies the person as exactly what they are trying to say they aren’t. “I have no issue with Black People BUT (insert racist statement here)”. “I support feminism BUT (Insert sexist statement here)”. For Michael Sam’s drafting, the closeted bigots used the footage of the kiss as their easy way to get angry about gay people while proclaiming to be just fine with gay people. It’s sickening, and hypocrisy in action. Mostly for the very reason illustrated above. Where is all the outrage when new draft picks kiss their girlfriends?

The main argument I saw being thrown around was that ESPN was shoving the issue in your face. But they weren’t. They were just letting the cameras roll as a new draft pick shared an emotional special moment with the person closest to him. They weren’t pushing an agenda, they were doing what they always did. Focusing cameras on emotional players as they learn about their life changing. In the first round when Eric Ebron got drafted, one of the big stories for him that was getting pushed was that he proposed to his girlfriend on the Empire State Building. We even got shown footage of the event. I think showing a proposal is more personally intrusive than showing a player react to getting drafted, but that’s me. Where was the outrage here? Why weren’t people getting mad that we were seeing a player propose to his girlfriend, something that had almost NOTHING to do with football? Why did we need to see him propose? But nobody is asking those questions. They showed it because it made for interesting television. Same with why they show players react to getting drafted. It makes for compelling presentation. ESPN was doing what they have literally been doing for years during draft coverage. Point the camera in the right direction at the right time and let the human drama of a selection play out onscreen. It’s just that this time, the guy kissed another guy.

There is literally no other difference between that shot and what they did for other players. If Michael Sam kissing a man bothers you but other players kissing their girlfriends does not, the network isn’t the problem. You are. If Sam had kissed a girl, no one would be saying anything. For me, that’s the kicker, and that’s what pissed me off. Seeing a man kiss another man might be new to you as it doesn’t happen nearly as often, but while it might momentarily startle you if you are as truly “okay with gay people” as you proclaim to be, it shouldn’t make you that uncomfortable. It’s just a kiss. They didn’t rip each others clothes off and start going at it or anything. They did have the cake eating moment, but that happens at almost every wedding ever and nobody complains. The dude was happy and having a larf. They didn’t even suck face, none of the kisses lasted more than half a second.

Moving on from that to Sam the person, I couldn’t be happier for the guy and it was wonderful to see him get drafted. I never felt his draft status was in question. I knew he’d be taken late, he had a bad combine and large question marks as a player. I expected anywhere in the 6th or 7th. At that stage teams are mostly just grasping at straws and taking chances on dudes anyway. Sam was good enough a player to warrant some team taking a chance on him, just to see what he’s got. He was the SEC defensive player of the year, after all. There has to be something there worth looking into. I also read he had many team offers should he have become an undrafted free agent. It’s clear teams were at least intrigued by what he could do, but weren’t going to overdraft him based on his social impact. Which is a good thing. Sam deserves to be treated as a player and a human being by the league. I think for the most part  he will be. He might also be used for marketing, but the NFL certainly isn’t going to shut him out. If he’s going to be talked about in the NFL, it’s going to be in an attention seeking capability and I’d rather see a team try to exploit and market the gay player then marginalize and hide him. Lesser of two evils sort of thing.

The problem with Sam is he’s always going to be a bigger deal than he should be. There needs to be a separation between Sam the human/player and Sam the symbol of social progression, but there never will be. Sadly, this is also causing problems among those of us who support him. Right now we have two main camps of Michael Sam fans. The social symbol fans, and the football fans. Both are trying to separate Sam too much from the other side.

A sentiment I’ve seen frequently of Michael Sam fans who also love football is that “We should all just shut up about him being gay and just evaluate him purely as a player.” I certainly understand this side of the argument well and probably err more on this side than the other. They don’t want Sam to be known as the “gay player”, they want Sam to just be known as a football player, as a person. They rightfully point out that his orientation should have absolutely no impact on how he is viewed. They rightfully point out that many years from now, the fact that we made such a big deal out of him being gay was silly. I get it. I want him to be seen as purely a player as much as any of them. Because the day him being gay doesn’t matter is the day we have succeeded.

But we are still far from that day.

Sam, whether we want to admit it or not, is a pioneer. He is a symbol. He is a big deal. He is a major leap forward. His next steps are equally important. If Sam becomes a great player, a good player, or even just a reliable backup, it makes it easier for other players to come out. It makes it easier to accept gay players into the NFL society. Michael Sam getting drafted is important. Where he goes from here is just as important, and to ignore what he represents would be shortsighted. Sam is a big deal.

But the people I’m the most worried about aren’t the bigots. They aren’t the people who want to separate the gay issue from the player. It’s the people who are Michael Sam fans purely for the social symbol he is. These are the people who don’t care about football but take it into the other direction, putting Sam on a pedestal not as a human or a player but as a symbol. Because if Sam fails, these people are going to be just insufferable. They tend to forget the human side of things and play up the issue he represents. I have friends who were saying that they don’t care about football, but now they are Rams fans. Because the Rams drafted the gay player. So now the Rams are “super progressive” and whatnot. The Rams aren’t any more progressive than the other teams, at least I don’t feel they are. If you want to be cynical they may have drafted Sam to help put butts in seats. He’s a local Mizzou guy, his presence on the team is going to sell tickets in the same way Tebow did.

But Sam has a pretty good chance to not make the team at all. The Rams have probably the best front 4 in all of football right now. I would wager Sam has little to no chance of being a starter on that D-line. He’s going to have to work very, very hard to gain just a backup spot. He could very easily end up cut. I want to hope the Rams can find a spot for him, but jeez. He’s got an uphill battle. He fell into the late rounds because he wasn’t a great player. If Sam gets cut…the people who see him purely as a symbol are going to be the first to cry foul. These are the same people who championed Kluwe when he got cut for “supporting gay rights”. Kluwe got cut for more than just his opinions, he also got cut for football reasons. Their efforts to push the issue are going to cause such an uproar, when it’s likely that Sam will just end up being cut because he’s not good enough. Sam, I have little doubt, will be viewed rather fairly by the Rams in the evaluation process, because I have faith (maybe too much) that we have come far enough as a society to allow it, and the NFL is more interested in money than “the issues”. I’m rooting for Sam really hard for this reason, because if he succeeds it’s good for both sides. If he fails, the uproar over the NFL being “bigoted” might actually hurt the chances of another player coming out, because he will have seen the shitstorm he could face if he doesn’t cut it. The very people who see Sam as a symbol of progression may hurt the cause if Sam doesn’t make it. I hope to the football gods I’m wrong about this, by the way.

Sam likely knew all of this going in. I’m sure the weight on his shoulders is more than anything many of us could ever face, and for his bravery, he should be admired. Michael Sam is a hero, even if it may look silly to call him that years from now. What he’s accomplished already is phenomenal. I wish him the best.