By Amy Gehrt
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It’s a scene we’ve seen play out a million times: someone learns they have achieved something extraordinary — won the lottery, made the team, earned an award or other accolade — and they celebrate by sharing an emotional kiss with a significant other.
Typically, that normal expression of affection barely gets a mention — if it registers at all — even when the cameras are rolling. However, when Michael Sam realized his lifelong dream of getting drafted by an NFL team and gave an exuberant kiss to his boyfriend, it definitely drew some attention.
“It was a moment that was 45 years in the making,” Human Rights Campaign Vice President for Communications and Marketing Fred Sainz told The Associated Press, making reference to the June 28, 1969, Stonewall riots that are widely viewed as the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement.“I cried,” he said. “Not just because Michael Sam had been selected. Just as importantly, because the networks did not shy away from covering that emotion, and his same-sex partner sharing that emotion with him. He wasn’t ashamed of it. He was proud of it.”
And Sam should be proud of it. The kiss — chaste by most TV standards — was an honest reaction to the news ... and one he is just as entitled to have as the many other sports figures who have locked lips with their sweeties.
Had he not allowed himself to be in the moment, or had those providing draft coverage cowardly opted to turn the cameras off for fear of bigoted backlash, it would have done a great disservice not only to Sam and the other courageous athletes who have been coming out, but also to those watching at home, wondering if they’ll ever be able to step out of the shadows and do the things so many of us take for granted — hold a date’s hand, sling an arm around a loved one or engage in a simple public display of affection.
I find it remarkable that many of the same people who are decrying Sam’s right to publicly kiss his boyfriend would be the first to be up in arms, ranting about their God-given rights in ’Murica, if someone tried to limit their own freedoms one iota. Thankfully, the tide is turning, and the U.S. is increasingly inclusive — and finally beginning to live up to its promise of equality for all citizens.
Two years ago, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to announce his support for gay marriage. For years Obama had said his views were evolving, but his family was a driving force behind his change of heart. Sources say first lady Michelle Obama supported marriage equality, and Obama admitted he couldn’t explain to his two daughters why same-sex couples should be treated any differently.
Page 2 of 2 - Polls have found a growing number of Americans agree with their president. In a March poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, 58 percent said they were in favor of gay marriage. When Obama announced his support two years ago, a Gallup poll found that number was at just 50 percent.
Even in pro sports, a field traditionally dominated by “guys’ guys,” acceptance is on the rise. Gay athletes have always been faced with an impossible choice: stay in the closet or risk exclusion from playing the game they love. But a little over a year ago, NBA player Jason Collins made the brave decision to come out — becoming the first major league sports star to do so while still an active player, rather than waiting until after he’d retired like others before him had done.
It was a risky move, to be sure, and one that could’ve derailed his career, just as coming out could’ve kept Sam — whose jersey is now the No. 2 seller among NFL rookies, and who has already landed an endorsement deal with Visa — from his NFL dreams. However, just as the brave athletes who broke the color barrier decades ago had done, Collins and Sam stepped forward and blazed a trail that others will now be able to more easily follow.
And the message they’re sending is something I think we can all emulate: Be proud of who you are, and let your performance speak for itself.
Amy Gehrt is the city editor of the Pekin (Ill.) Daily Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times.