Celebrity, celebrity, celebrity.
It’s the media version of your friendly neighborhood realtor’s mantra, ‘location, location, location,’ Scotch® taped across the mind of every editor, on-line content manager, writer & intern in the greater ‘town & country.’
It’s a tenet they swear by. It even beats out the always popular & next best filler, listing, i.e., mock drafts, power rankings, etcetera.
The fascination for face seems always percolating just below the surface, just waiting for the next personality to bubble-up & drink in. Though, that lure can be fleeting, especially if the celeb ‘bites the hand that feds it (See: “Ken Griffey Jr. Subjects Linda Cohn to Incredibly Awkward Interview” / SI / Smiley / 3-6).’
Idolatry goes way back as far as the Pharaohs. America’s love affair with its sport celebrities began its courtship back in the year 1885.
That’s the year former bare-knuckle boxer and new Marquess of Queensberry convert John L. Sullivan (1885-92) donned the champion’s belt;
Mike “King” Kelly (1878-93) of “Slide, Kelly, Slide” fame (USA’s first hit recording (Edison / Wikipedia)) worked baseball’s best backstop w/ the Cubs (White Stockings);
Sharp-shooter Annie Oakley (Phoebe Moses) joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and America saw return of a Democrat to the White House for the first time since A. Johnson served out Lincoln’s 2nd term (‘65-69) in the person of Grover Cleveland (“fond of outdoor sports” / HP Jeffers), the only President to serve two, non-consecutive terms.
From there we’ve never looked back.
Celebrity can soar high (Jordan / Favre), simmer warm-to-hot (Trout / Woods), drag-on for decades (Rose) or fade in a month (Lin-sanity).
Sometimes the spotlight is a natural beam (LeBron, Wade & Bosh / Toews, Kane & Hossa), other times the subject will swing the light right onto themselves (Sherman).
And that’s just what Michael Sam did, an All-American football senior at the University of Missouri, when he went public in announcing his homosexual orientation in an interview with the New York Times back in early February (2-9-14) (Mike spoke the same day with Chris Connelly of ESPN’s investigative program “Outside the Lines”).
Times: “I’m Michael Sam, uh…I’m a football player and I’m gay.”
“Is this a huge deal, I understand it is, but my purpose and focus right now is playing football.”
“I came out to my team, um, this last August and coming out to them, they rallied around me, they supported me and I knew in that moment that this could happen anywhere…my team, could support me, any team could support me.”
Though mainstream media jumped in head first & ate it up with a spoon, I wouldn’t call Mike’s revelation a game-changer, anymore than was Jason Collins (Nets) last year April.
There have been gay athletes as long as there have been athletes.
What Mike & Jason’s words might do, in cultural sense, is give confidence to those who have struggled with their person, those who have born unequal treatment by prejudice as their sexuality is readily apparent or known, and then, simply, enhance awareness.
All good things.
But don’t expect Sam’s bulletin to change workings of the NFL or start a wave of coming-out parties.
Three reasons why: 1) This is a personal venture, fueled by typical media frenzy; 2) most Americans were already accepting in large part the homosexual lifestyle (See: “Tony Soprano”), and 3) not much to gain by publicly declaring your sexuality.
Sam & Jason already own that Jackie Robinson / Neil Armstrong, ‘first’ thing. Nobody talks about Larry Doby or Buzz Aldrin. So what’s the point, more “load off (OTL),” more awareness? Fine. Well, there are still some big slots open, like NASCAR, NHL, MLB, Oval Office, Supreme Court, Chiefs of Staff, Vatican, John Birch, etcetera.
Most people, whether hetero, homo or bi-sexual, will never publicly declare their ‘team.’ It’s not what people do, though, a majority of the populace never felt compulsion to do so as the presumption of heterosexuality happened to’ve been correct for most humanoids.
That‘s why “Don’t ask, don’t tell (‘94-11)” wasn’t so bad. It comported with how most people handle the matter. The DD directive did afford those who chose to remain private about sexuality an atmosphere more conducive to that choice w/out pressure to declare.
And then there’s the shower. It’s the 10,000 lb. elephant in the gay jock discussion.
If the subject’s ever broached it’s often met with snickers or indignant dismissiveness, though, Jerry Seinfeld & cast handled it with their usual flair for funny.
Kramer: “Hey, you know, this is the first time we’ve ever seen each other naked.
Jerry: Believe me, I didn’t see anything.
Kramer: Oh, you didn’t sneak a peek?
Jerry: No, did you?
Kramer: Yeah, I snuck a peek.
Kramer: Why not? Hey, what about you George?
George: Yeah, I snuck a peek, but it was so fast I didn’t see anything… just a blur.
Jerry: I made conscious effort not to look. There’s certain information I just don’t want.” “The Boyfriend,” aired 2-12-92, written by L. David & L. Levin (Castle Rock).
B.S. (before Sam), a shower is just a task, a stage. Even in high school, not much horse play. But now, with enhanced awareness, it could be taken a tad differently.
For those gay players already rostered, their continued desire for privacy will be respected by their peers. The increased dialogue may create some unspoken angst amongst straight players but nobody apart from Incognito types wants anyone ill-at-ease, so it should pass.
On a personal level Mike’s revelation is a draft enhancer.
He and his team of advisors might see what celebrity has done for others and may be looking for similar result in May. It’s a roll of the dice, to be sure, but with his moderate size it’s a chance worth taking. And then there are the deals (“Endorsements“ / Fox / 2-19 / Saraf), the financial accoutrements and new found ‘cash-et’ that accompany fame (“(Sam) Turns Down (WH) Invitation” / UPI / Bleier / 3-7). It’s a win – win.
One lesson from Tebowmania: NFL won’t dabble in celebrity. Either you make the grade (skill set), become an asset to the team (any position) or your fame is just a distraction.
Tim never converted to the NFL way but his popularity did get his ticket punched in Rd-1 of 2010, as it (notoriety) may’ve given slight boost to Manti Te’o last April (Rd-2 / 38).
What better way to enhance marketability & draft position than to get waves of attention for purportedly advocating equality and social progress? Mike may have bumped himself up from a 4-5 rounder to as high as a 2-3. Pretty nifty. Side o’ “ham” for “Sam-I-Am.”
For the Mel Kiper-types it’s a wash.
Draft aficionados might rather spend their time on believed jewels (Clowney?) or hidden gems in this player rock show, but the celebs do bring in the glims and then those with skill or size deficiencies (Sam, TT, Manziel, Te’o) must still be kept in the buy-sell discussion to satisfy fans & GMs who’ve caught the bug.
Someone might say, ‘that’s absurd, Sam’s pronouncement is just as likely to hurt his standing with draft operators as it would help.’ Balderdash.
Mike doesn’t come out of the closet if he (and advisors) believe it’d hurt his draft prospectus, whether it freed him up emotionally, as he claims, or not.
There’s no reason to believe Team Mike, pre-interview, would think the NFL was much different, less accommodating on gay lifestyle than is America’s majority. The prevailing attitude of late has been one of support for gay rights in the military, jobs, marriage and even adoption, though jury’s still out on the later as it’s not been vetted near as much (See; “ESPN Survey: (86%) of NFL players OK with gay teammate” / Mascaro / 2-17).
For every owner Mike loses with his disclosure, he earns the respect of five others. NFL knows greed but is pragmatic & progressive They just don’t abide PC bullies (Redskins).
Consider the timing.
Sam floats it to UM teammates in August, maybe after word his draft prospect could use a boost, got response he’d hoped for and has now given Draft Central a heads-up.
At 6’2” / 255 lbs., Mike’s not big by NFL standards (unlike TT, better believe he’ll make a switch (LB)) and can use all the help he can get. Normally, I’d not begrudge man using anything at his disposal to enhance his chances, short of PEDs, but this is different.
Advancing equal rights should not be used to enhance a personal agenda for profit. Sam might be taking us for a ride with the media paying the freight.
But then NFL hasn’t set much of an example.
The League seems to be piggy-backing on “breast cancer awareness (ACS)” in order to pull in the ladies. Were it not the case, ¼ of 1% of yearly NFL net revenue given to the cause, rather than a fluxing, measly 8% that drops in the research till “after everybody has taken their cut (“Only 8” / WT (BI) / 10-16 / Chasmar),” would do serious good and spare us the most disrespectful, hideous, (pink) uniform gear ever donned by an athlete.
Then there’s Patrick O’Hara.
Pat’s the ex-Oklahoma kicker who took to internet to solicit $ to attend NFL tryout (AZ) as Mom is in “stage 4 cancer.“ “Money’s very tight,” says Pat, pursuing “dream God continues to bring closer and closer.” At post he’d raised $2750 but “had no clue it’d be so successful (“Ex-NCAA” / Fox / Gilman / 3-1).” Really. Could “Breaking Bad” have not aired in the Sooner State?
There was another tenet, taboo against personal profit where good deed or hardship were in play. Effort was made to avoid appearance of duplicity, co-mingling, mixed message. Movie characters like “Cal” (East of Eden), “Sefton” (Stalag 17) & “King” (King Rat) were savvy dudes but colored corrupt because ‘there’s a time and a place.’ Not anymore.
Would Sam oppose a practice that discriminates based on sexual orientation. Sure.
Would the NFL like to see a reduction in the incidence of breast cancer? Yes.
Does Pat O’Hara love his mother? I’d have little doubt.
When speaking to the press at the Indy combine, Sam stated: “I just wish (folks) will see me as Michael Sam the football player.” Aw, shucks. There was an easy way to make that wish came true, Mike, before you supposedly felt urge to “load off” last August.
“Sam-I-Am” wants his (“green eggs and ham”) and eat (‘em), too.
“This above all: to thyn own self be true (de Vere),” and if that happens to swing the spotlight and fatten thyn wallet, so much the better for you, “Sam-I-Am (Dr. Seuss).”
Photo Credit: Michael Sam / 11-30-13 / wc.cca / Mark Schierbecker
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.