When Michael Sam, star defensive player for the University of Missouri football team, told his teammates that he was gay before the start of his last season, his teammates essentially told him “we know, it’s cool.” They accepted him because they knew him and cared about him as a human being first and as a teammate. When Sam announced to the world before the pro draft the reaction was much different. NFL denizens, sportswriters and sports radio jockeys weighed in with mixed reactions. It was like a mini lesson in every important social change in the last few centuries.
Jackie Robinson integrated major league sports after hundreds of thousands of African-Americans served in front line units during WWII. The experience of “fighting in the trenches” and depending on another man to save your life tended to neutralize cultural indoctrination into Jim Crow. Sharing life (and death) with someone “different” somehow makes them less different. The lords of major league baseball resisted change because they were out of touch with mainstream society. Ball players resisted integration of baseball saying, among other things, that they could not shower with African-Americans. They could die with them on a battlefield, but not shower with them.
I started thinking about Jackie Robinson because of the comments of current NFL players and coaches, comments which included a concern about showering together. How ignorant and ironic that black players would mimic the argument of racists. What makes them think that haven’t already showered with a gay person, anyway? The University of Missouri teammates who knew and cared about Mr. Sam before they knew he was gay and had no problems. When we know and have relationships with people it tends to neutralize fear and its manifestation of bigotry. When we accept people for WHO they are, it doesn’t matter much WHAT they are.