Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Michael Sam and Toughness

The word we hear used more often than nearly other when talking about the NFL is "toughness". Coaches want players with toughness. Announcers love guys who show toughness, because "tough" players do things like break tackles, and that can be shown again and again in slo-mo to fill air time. Analysts praise guys for their toughness, because it's a great way to say a nice thing about a guy even if there is nothing else to say. Fans fall in love with players because of their toughness, because, hey, it's easier to imagine yourself as the not-as-talented-guy-who-nevertheless-gives-his-all-and-somehow-makes-the-team than as guy-with-star-level-talent-you-demonstrably-don't have.

And what do we mean by toughness? Nine times out of ten, it's bulling through an uncomfortable situation. It's playing through pain or injury. It's not letting something uncomfortable stop them from taking the field. It's Chris Sims playing with a ruptured spleen, Jack Youngblood out on the field with a fractured coccyx. It's "tape me up and give me a shot and put me back out there because we're playing football, dammit". It's overcoming that unpleasant or uncomfortable or painful or potentially crippling thing and continuing onward because when you show toughness, that is what you do.

Which brings us to the gum-flapping nonsense over the Michael Sam kiss. 

If you are an NFL fan, if you espouse this cult of "toughness", if you routinely demand that the guys in the stretchy pants whose every move you follow demonstrate the ability to get up and smash into other world-class athletes with contusions and sprains and hairline fractures and God knows what else, then you can suck it up for three or five or fifteen or however many seconds of footage ESPN and NFL Network showed of the first openly gay NFL draftee kissing his boyfriend. And do it without writing angry letters or typing deranged tweets or making more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger phone calls to local sports talk radio saying how you're just as OK with gay folks kissing as you are with regular folks, but for God's sake what about the children. 

(Note 1: Your children have at some point done some combination of eating boogers, fingerpainting with poop, pulling down their pants with other children to try to figure out why some have innies and some have outies, licking everything in your house that they could reach, eating bugs, and other things probably so vile that they defy description, because they're kids. Two dudes kissing is way down on the list of "things you should be worried about explaining to them.)

(Note 2: If your kid who is too young for the birds-and-the-bees talk is sitting there in rapt attention watching the seventh fucking round of the NFL draft, odds are THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR PARENTING TECHNIQUES. There has got to be something else you can do with them than let them watch minor NFL league functionaries try to pronounce the name of a wideout from Marist.)

(Note 3: If you were watching the seventh round of the NFL draft with your kid, it's because you are both fans of a sport that involves large men in armor smashing into each other with the force of a 30 MPH car crash multiple times per game. If you are OK with people doing this level of violence to each other and not with two guys in a relationship giving a relatively chaste smooch, you may wish to re-examine your priorities.)

(Note 4: Don't you dare quote Leviticus at me on this one. Because if they're playing football, then by God they're sure as hell not keeping the Sabbath day holy and refraining from work upon it.)

Because if you do, you are, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong. ESPN does not owe you a warning: "CAREFUL - DUDES MIGHT KISS" to protect your fragile emotional fee-fee from something you might see on the television. It's Michael goddamn Sam, for God's sake. The guy who announced he was gay months ago. The guy whom everybody knows is gay. The guy everyone knows likes dudes, and the guy who is going to have cameras at his house even if he's a seventh round pick BECAUSE HE IS THE FIRST FOOTBALL PLAYER TO PUBLICLY ADMIT TO LIKING DUDES. You can figure this one out, Archimedes. You've had several months worth of warning. And when ESPN and NFL Network chose to air a historic moment instead of giving in to the sensibilities of the potentially offended, you sat there and watched - in many cases again and again - without taking responsibility for your viewing and changing the channel or turning off the TV. 

Or, alternately, seeing something that made you uncomfortable and enduring it because it really wasn't that long.

We call that - wait for it - showing toughness.
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