NFL Draft prospect Michael Sam announced that he's gay, and since he's a mid-round prospect who will more than likely find his way onto an NFL roster this spring, he could be the first openly gay active football player in the history of the league.
Good for him.
It takes courage to make that kind of announcement, especially since he'll have to spend most of his work days in an environment (male sports locker room) where political correctness isn't really something that most professional athletes adhere to, regardless of the sport.
Unfortunately, beings that this is 2014, and there's the whole 24/7 news-cycle, complete with social media, it's almost inevitable that someone--a player (past or present), coach or someone else with a bit of celebrity status--is going to either make a crude joke at Sam's expense or simply make a strong anti-gay stance. Either instance is going to make headlines almost immediately, and this person is going to be vilified--and rightfully so.
In a way, I kind of feel bad for players who are going to have to answer question after question about Sam, especially on the team who drafts him, because even while trying to say the right thing, it could still come off as controversial, and that player will be scrutinized--and maybe rightfully so?
But what I'd like to really delve into right now is the fans who have and will react to Sam and his coming forward with his homosexuality.
Professional athletes (or anyone with celebrity status) get castigated anytime they go public with insensitive or controversial comments, and fans remind them about it forever. However, what about the fans? As someone who blogs on a consistent basis and follows social media daily, I KNOW how fans act, and the insensitive things they say about professional athletes (or anyone with celebrity status) almost every hour of every day.
And this is especially the case in the aftermath of a loss by someone's sports team. Here's a link to a story about a Patriots fan who sent an absolutely tasteless tweet to Torrey Smith after Baltimore defeated her favorite team in Week 3 of the 2012 season. Smith had just lost his brother in a motorcycle accident, and this "fan," still fuming over a close loss, had the audacity to talk trash by joking about Smith's brother.
If you clicked on the link, you know the woman was taken to task for her tweet. She obviously didn't deserve death threats or to have her address posted online, but seriously, how dare she? What gave her the right to say something so insensitive to a football player, simply because his team defeated hers?
Sad to say, in the Internet Age, stuff like that from fans is the rule and not the exception, and I could find dozens of other examples if I had the stomach to search long enough.
I'm not going out on a limb by saying hundreds of fans will make off-color and insensitive remarks about Sam in the coming weeks, months and years. And this will especially be the case during Game Week, as fans from opposing teams will invade "enemy blogs" or take to social media to engage in trash talk, which will no-doubt include at least a few homophobic slurs directed at Sam.
While some of these fans will be taken to task for their remarks, they will quickly be forgotten, while the few professional football players who come out against Sam will be reminded of it probably for the rest of their lives.
How often do we bring up Santonio Holmes, and his tweet to a fan, inviting him to drink poison? That one tweet will be attached to Holmes from now until long after he's out of football.
When you're in the public eye, you have to watch what you say to people, even if they're really giving you the business.
It's sort of like working in a service-based industry. As someone who does, I can tell you that you have to take a lot of crap from indignant customers who think nothing of insulting you and making you feel like dirt. But, heaven-forbid you turn the tables on them................"Don't you know the customer is always right?"
So, while we'll be taking these athletes to task for their inevitable future insensitive remarks about Michael Sam, please, remember, as fans, we should also adhere to the same standards while talking trash online.
Just because we're not professional athletes--and we're afforded the anonymity of hiding behind a laptop or phone--that doesn't give us the right to say whatever comes to mind.