Michael Sam: Is he still a gay football player, or just a football player?

After all the hype, all the ballyhoo, all the drama, all the controversy over a coming-out and a guy-to-guy smooch in the manly, macho world of professional football, the Michael Sam debut had all the oomph and fanfare of an afternoon nap.

This was ho meeting hum.

I mean, an openly gay man performing in the Canadian Football League was supposed to be a resonating moment, complete with bells, whistles, Roman candles and a 21-gun salute. Instead…let’s just say it reminded me of the Miss Peggy Lee classic, Is That All There Is?.

Cripes, man, as of this writing, pro football’s gay lunar landing hadn’t even attracted the attention of the website Outsports, the self-proclaimed Galactic Leader in Gay Sports. Their headline story 14 hours after the fact was the impending nuptuals of U.S. lesbian soccer star Megan Rapinoe and singer/songwriter Sara Cahoone. Ya, that’s right. A same-sex engagement was given top billing over Sam’s baptism under fire.

Let the record show that the lunar landing occurred on Friday evening, with four minutes and 58 ticks remaining in the opening quarter of a joust between the Montreal Alouettes and the homestanding Ottawa RedBlacks. That’s when Sam, an openly gay man, entered the fray, trotting on to the playing pitch at TD Place Stadium during a commercial break.

He lined up at rush end for the Als, and the historic moment was witnessed by 24,427 sets of eyes in the pews. Plus, of course, the assortment of usual suspects roaming the sidelines and TSN’s national television audience.

The large lads in pads then resumed regularly scheduled hostilities. No muss, no fuss. And no quarterback sacks or tackles for the cause celebre, who, through the duration of the exercise, was inserted into the defensive dozen for 12 plays and whose contribution was, predictably, that of a non-impactful, non-influential participant.

Basically, Sam, the former Southeastern Conference defensive player-of-the-year with the Missouri Tigers and seventh-round choice of the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 National Football League draft, was all fizzle and no sizzle.

So where do we go from here?

Is Michael Sam now just a football player to be judged and treated strictly on the merits of his activity between the lines, or is he still the gay football player?

Surely, those in the LGBT collective see him as a gay football player, someone who gives rise to hope for their youth. As much as gay kids know they can become doctors and lawyers and teachers and politicians and singers and actors and serve in the military, they now know the doors to professional football have been kicked open. They can walk through.

Sam, along with Alouettes ownership/management and the CFL, have tilled the soil and planted the seeds of possibility and opportunity. Gays can play pro football.

There’s only one question to be answered now: Can Michael Sam play pro football?

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Michael Sam: There are no gay voices in Canadian sports journalism (print division) to tell the story about a gay football player

And, now, a word about Michael Sam from all the gay sports writers at major daily newspapers in Canada…

Oh. Wait. There are no gay sports writers at the major dailies in Canada.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

At least, there are none that I know of.

So, everything that you have read, or will read, about Michael Sam potentially performing in the Canadian Football League comes from the perspective of white heterosexual males, or, in much smaller numbers, white heterosexual females.

Some of them will care that Sam is gay, only because it gives them a fresh angle to scribble about once the large lads commence to grabbing grass and growling at the Montreal Alouettes training camp this month and next. He’ll make for juicy copy. Others will care because of the social significance of an openly gay man participating in the most macho of professional team sports. Still others will care because they are homophobic (if you believe there aren’t homophobes among the flowers of print jock journalists, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Winnipeg that I’d like to sell you).

Nary a word, however, will be written by a man or woman who actually understands what it’s like to be gay.

I maintain that one need not be gay to write about gay issues, any more than one need be an accomplished actor to opine about the merits of George Clooney’s latest work, or a priest to discuss the pros and cons of the 10 commandments.

It helps, though.

I mean, only a gay person can write the Sam story with an appropriate portion of passion. Only a gay person can relate to the paralyzing fear and anxiety of being outed, or coming out, to friends, family and co-workers. Only a gay person knows the sting of rejection and discrimination based soley on a preference of bedmates. Only a gay person can relate to the catcalls and hate language born of homophobia.

How does one get to the meat of an issue if she or he cannot possibly understand the issue?

I often write about LGBT matters not merely because they are important to me, but because they are me. I live it. Every day. I know what Michael Sam has gone through. What he is going through. What he will go through. It’s all on a different scale and in a different arena, that’s all.

The point is, I can write it from a personal perspective. Nobody in Canada’s mostly white, mostly old-boys club of heterosexual sports scribes can do that vis-a-vis Sam.

Is that important? Absolutely, because it speaks to credibility.

Why do you think we see so many ex-jocks propped up as talking heads on the various panels on televised hockey, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc.? Let go of the notion that some of them (hello P.J. Stock, Glenn Healy, Nick Kypreos, Glen Suitor, Milt Stegall, etc.) can be terribly annoying. They’re there because they’ve been there, done that.

Doug Brown, ex of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, pens a piece in the Winnipeg Free Press not because he’s a gifted wordsmith. In general, the former defensive lineman’s weekly column is an exercise in how many big words he can cram into his alloted space. On occasion, however, he puts major points on the scoreboard because he takes us inside the locker room and into the players’ heads, something only a gridiron gladiator who spent considerable time in the trenches can do.

In the case of Sam, who signed a two-year contract with the Als on Friday, I suspect Brown’s next offering will do that very thing.

Assuming Sam survives the final cut and is with the Larks for a portion, or the entirety, of the 2015 CFL season, the “gay” angle will be beaten to death. Like it or not. And it’s my guess that sports scribes across the nation will offer a favorable slant on the one-time Missouri Tiger defensive end’s personal story.

Unfortunately, their copy will be devoid of passion, insight and first-hand knowledge. In other words, the mountain of Sam stuff you read will be missing everything that writing should be about.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.