I don’t watch sports. Whatever media attention Michael Sam received never entered my sphere of awareness. On the other hand, the backlash to it is all over my social media and news feeds. Note I didn’t say the reaction to it, but specifically the protests. Had it not been for these I would never have known. Yet when I stop to read what its all about, all I see from my vantage point is the very people who have invaded my techie world complaining about all the media attention over Sam’s announcement. From this side of my monitor the complaints about the media attention are the media attention.
One such arrived from a friend who I love and respect who posted a link to a Matt Walsh post. From that post:
The double standard is so obvious, so inevitable, and so common that I’m bored with pointing it out. Tell Tebow to stop praising his Lord and Savior, and the country will laugh and cheer along, but tell Sam to stop trying to turn his sex life into international headlines, and you’ll be bound, gagged, and tossed into a river.
Here’s what troubles me about this. Members of the gay community are harmed economically, emotionally and physically on a daily basis, up to and including being killed, and that threat originates in the religious community. A church can be built just about anywhere and nobody bats an eye. But any establishment that caters to gays is “in your face.” In many communities throughout America, gay people can’t even have a safe place to go hang out with friends and watch the game over a beer without that simple act placing themselves in mortal danger.
It is particularly repugnant that Walsh would say “tell Sam to stop trying to turn his sex life into international headlines, and you’ll be bound, gagged, and tossed into a river.” He cites a couple of cases where people have in fact received death threats speaking out against Michael Sam. But these are very limited and specific threats, none of which have been carried out. Gay people are injured and killed all the time and not for some specific thing they did or something they wrote. No, they are beaten and killed just for being gay.
To compare the danger these two groups face as if they are equal requires a preexisting belief that gay people are a lesser class of human. You won’t, for example, soon see any blogger saying “…but tell Ed Caesar to stop complaining about poor working conditions for war correspondents and you’ll be blindfolded, shot and beheaded” because war correspondents are, if anything, held in higher esteem than bloggers and sports commentators. You simply can’t compare the physical threats to sports journalists and bloggers with the physical threat to war correspondents and be taken seriously. That it is possible to compare the physical threat to sports journalists and bloggers with the physical threat to the gay community as if the writers are the ones in peril, and to do so largely without objection, speaks to the degree of disparity of the esteem in which the two groups are generally held. That disparity is the problem, the Walsh post perpetuates it, and I object to that comparison as particularly vile. So should you, I would think.
Also, to characterize Sam’s announcement as glory-seeking and entirely personal grossly misrepresents the issue. Walsh writes “Hey, this is personal, man. That’s why I’m throwing a parade, alerting the media, issuing a press release, having t-shirts printed, and booking an interview on 20/20.” Sure. If you are willing to put on blinders and ignore the effect of this announcement to gay kids playing high school or college football. This isn’t about one guy any more than Jackie Robinson playing in the majors was about one guy. Top tier sports now routinely accept people of all colors. There has to be a Michael Sam before that happens in sports for gay players, just as there had to be a Jackie Robinson.
If you sincerely want the sexuality of top-tier athletes to be a personal matter then you should either celebrate this with everyone else or just not contribute to the media frenzy and instead wait for it to blow over. That there was a huge backlash indicates just how far we have to go before players can live without fear that discovery of their secret will ruin them. Indeed, how far we have to go before they don’t need to keep it a closely guarded secret at all. There will be more such announcements of gay football players until finally someone declares and the response from media and fans is “meh.” Then, and only then, can a player’s sexuality truly be a personal matter. Sorry media complainers, your response thus far isn’t exactly “meh.” For practice, imagine what you’d write if a new draftee took the podium and announced “I’m black.” Some people would undoubtedly celebrate. If you’d feel silly and demeaned rebutting them, you are on the right track.
Yes, there’s a double standard here. There’s a group of people who have made it their life’s mission to oppress another group of people and in doing so cause considerable pain, financial hardship, injury and loss of life. This is supposed to be OK with everyone else. Then there’s a group of people who want the freedom to love and be loved by other human beings, get married, raise their families, grow old together, congregate with friends and enjoy all the benefits of living in a “free” country that everyone else takes for granted. The first group would like it if everyone else wasn’t OK with this.
Then there are people who are in neither group. They are members of the majority faith but don’t go out of their way to actively oppress other groups. They like to feel they have the high ground in this moral argument but do not see that they have asymmetrical alliances. They distance themselves from hate-based religious activism but don’t stand in open opposition to it.
But if they are going to be drawn to one side or another in this fight, most moderates will stand with their faith. The extreme groups know this and go out of their way to blur the lines. They hide amongst the moderate members of their faith so that to push back on one is to push back on all. That’s how social justice movements based on compassion become a “war on religion” in the media. That’s extremists stirring the pot, drawing moderates into their camp, and then using them as cannon fodder and human shields. When Muslims do this they are terrorists. When Christians do this they are in a righteous struggle. What’s the difference? Because some people kill lots of people at once and others single out specific targets? Either way, people suffer and die.
It is easy to compare Tebo to Sam and claim a double standard if you don’t look very deeply. Curtailing overt religious display at a football game or in government buildings does not result in financial oppression of the faith groups or the ever-present threat of their injury or death in large numbers. To the extent that these actions make it harder for the religious extremists to pervert religion into a tool of hate, it saves lives. Celebrating Michael Sam’s decision moves us closer to a world in which gay people are just people and need not live in daily fear of losing their job or their life. This also saves lives.
Perhaps it is because I’m not religious that I don’t see a double standard in these two actions which both seem to reduce overall suffering and loss of life. What seems to me to be the double standard at work here is the notion that the suffering of someone asked to tone down their overt public religious display is somehow more important than the suffering of someone hospitalized or killed because they managed to find love and be loved by another human being. I see a double standard in the declaration that we have a responsibility to save all unborn lives, but that once born they are on their own.
There used to be a saying “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” Now we seem to be saying “bring them all to term and we’ll sort ’em out in God’s name and then we’ll neglect, punish and kill the ones who don’t believe as we do.” I don’t see that as something to defend or side with. But I do celebrate events that move the needle away from human suffering and toward compassion, including Michael Sam’s announcement and not having the majority religion set up displays in government buildings, pray before meetings to the exclusion of other faiths, and hijack public policy. If you’re Christian and that bothers you, I’m sorry. Forgive me.