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Michael Sam Isn't Your Click Bait
By Christopher Sloce
On Feb. 9, Michael Sam, a Missouri defensive end came out as gay. Unlike Jason Collins, his career is just beginning. Also unlike Jason Collins’s, he has a boatload of accolades: first team All American, bowl appearances, winner of the SEC defensive player of the year award. The premiere knock before this announcement was that, size wise, he was between being a linebacker and a defensive end. Now, it’s became more complicated, sadly so. I don’t need to tell you it’s brave that he came out of the closet. If you’re reading this, I hope you realize that.
Writing about sports is difficult, because writing about anything is at its heart analysis, and sports analysis can fall into the traps of banal platitudes (“Tim Tebow is a winner!”), fogeyism (“This young African American player is celebrating grabbing the ball; what a gross show of his horrendous morals”), over-analysis (“What WOULD Schopenhauer say about Kerry Kittles’ socks?”) and the inconsequential (“What Breaking Bad character is your favorite curler?”).
So when we talk about Michael Sam, we have a duty and we have an issue. Our duty is to treat this story with grace and to tell the entire truth and not let biases get in the way. Our issue is the modes of sports analysis we’re working with simply come up short. We’re at the crossroads of sports media and a social issue. It’s not a pretty place to be. We’ve outlined the issues with sports analysis above. There are also problems, however, with the social aspect of how we might talk about Michael Sam.
Here is a headline about the Michael Sam story on Upworthy: “Breaking The Mold Like This Football Player Just Did Isn't Easy. But It's Terrific, That's For Sure.”
I’m not arguing with the content. I am never going to know what it’s like to come out of the closet. But by calling Michael Sam “This Football Player” ignores exactly everything that MAKES Michael Sam Michael Sam: the accolades, that he may have dropped a draft round or two by coming out of the closet, that there was a definite end and effect to him simply being honest about who he was. Instead, he’s just a football player, moreover, This Football Player, archon of click-bait, a story, not a human with defined concerns and a life. He is the story, the story isn’t about him. In essence, he becomes a product and something to pat yourself on the back for supporting instead of something you’re now informed about.
As a person who has held it evident for a while that it’s Terrific but not Easy to come out of the closet, I’m simply not impressed with someone telling me it is. Inside the article, which I put on a St. Christopher before opening, we get that Michael Sam is “potentially becoming the first openly gay NFL player in history.” There’s no potentially to it: he is.
The hyperbole on show isn’t just a “Michael Sam story” issue. This is an issue that effects the issues that concern people on a daily basis, that change lives, that decide how we vote, how dates go, how we relate to people at large and how we want the world to relate to us and how, when that goal is or is not met, shapes our feelings. These issues dwarf vague and hyperbolic headlines.
Of course, there has to be some sympathy with the plight of internet journalism. There is a desire to tell deliver news and there is a despair in realizing you have to compete with YouTube videos of cats playing Frozen covers on banjos. How exactly do we compete, this style emanates?
But the approach is wrongheaded. It’s trying to outYouTube YouTube. In this day and age, everything is based around how much louder the merits are trumpeted, not on those merits alone. Nobody can simply have a good weekend, weekends are horrendous or amazing. While I have my qualms with upworthy, the qualm really derives from how we color our own lives, which is of course hyperbolic. If I stub my toe, it’s a tragedy. A man walking into an open sewer is comedy. This dichotomy has existed forever.
But Michael Sam deserves better than this. He deserves to live his life separate from that thresher. And we’re going to have to be less obsessed with our tools and sharability for once and let the story breathe. After all, bards did not have or worry about Google Analytics. They just told stories.
#MichaelSam #Football #NBA #LGBTQ #Journalism #SportsJournalism