- - Tuesday, February 18, 2014


We live in a world where controversial ideas, situations and figures take up more than their fair share of our time and attention. The news cycle craves stories about the ludicrous antics of Miley Cyrus, downward spiral of Justin Bieber, mind-numbing popularity of reality TV and so on.

Yet even in the world of make-believe, there are times when controversy is, in reality, a noncontroversy.

Consider the recent explosion of media coverage about the University of Missouri’s Michael Sam. Football’s all-American defensive player of the year will, in all likelihood, be drafted in May and become the NFL’s first active, openly homosexual player. (While there have been other homosexual NFL players, including David Kopay and Esera Tuaolo, they came out after their retirement.)

When Mr. Sam announced his sexual orientation to Chris Connelly on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Feb. 9, the earth stood still for a moment — and then the press moved along. Various interviews and articles began to list every conceivable minutia about this college football player’s life, family and self-discovery.

Here’s a perfect example. On Feb. 12, The New York Times ran a front-page story about Mr. Sam and how life “had hardly been kind to him or his family.”

They described his impoverished surroundings in small-town Hitchcock, Texas. One of eight children, some of his siblings have either gone to jail or are dead. Mr. Sam’s father, who obviously “loves his son,” remains troubled by this revelation because “I’m old school. I’m a man-and-a-woman type of guy.”

In spite of all this, by “last August, Sam’s sexuality was an open secret … He had told a professor he was gay and had become a genial presence at the SoCo Club in Columbia, a nightclub and cabaret that hosts regular drag shows, among other events.”

OK, fair enough. But why does any of this matter, exactly?

For those who don’t have this particular inclination, it’s difficult to understand why some people have same-sex attractions. Yet I think we’ve reached a point in our society where this shouldn’t be a major issue.

Syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro recently said on a Fusion TV interview there’s a “vastly minute amount of discrimination against gays” in the United States.

Few would argue that racism and hatred have been completely extinguished in our society, of course. At the same time, I agree with Mr. Shapiro’s position.

Why do we discuss the homosexual issue ad nauseam? Some of my fellow conservatives bring up this particular community far too often.

I would argue the fault really lies with liberal media organizations like The New York Times, who keep making it an issue and constantly lionize athletes like Mr. Sam who decide to come out.

While I’m sure it’s a difficult personal decision, I’d argue people are gradually becoming less sensitized to these so-called “breaking news” items.

You don’t have to support either homosexual marriage or adoption (I don’t) to come to the realization that an athlete’s sexual orientation is of a secondary nature.

To quote from Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen’s popular rant, which has been widely viewed on YouTube, “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.” Well said.

There’s another important point to this story, however. Mr. Sam’s decision to announce he’s homosexual prior to the start of his pro football career could end up being a huge risk.

Some NFL teams may pass on drafting him. It’s not due to intolerance, but rather the huge potential controversy that will undoubtedly follow his every move. Like it or not, it’s a public-relations nightmare that most people would try to sidestep.

Meanwhile, the team that ultimately picks him must hope and pray his career turns out well. If Mr. Sam has a stellar rookie season, it will benefit everyone.

If it turns out to be a bust, followed by another lackluster season or two, what will the public’s reaction be when they decide to release or trade him? Your guess is as good as mine.

Michael Sam’s career stats, rather than his sexual orientation, should ultimately be the defining factor. Yet his decision to make a sexual issue as important as his football prowess means he’ll be observed and judged on a different scale.

This may not be fair or justified. At the same time, it was his choice to make this noncontroversy into something controversial.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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