Michael Sam, Football, and Privacy

Elsewhere on the Internet, some people were discussing the reaction to queer athlete Michael Sam‘s kiss with his partner upon receiving the news that he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams.  The comparison was made to public mockery of (and NCAA rule changes constraining) the displays of religiosity made by former quarterback Tim Tebow.  The claim, of course, is that everyone’s quick to kick Tebow’s Christianity but the “PC police” will leap on anyone who criticizes Sam behaving like a normal person who has a same-sex partner.

There are so many angles to attack that comparison from, but so many other people have covered the faux-oppression of Christians, differentials of social power in society, etc, etc.  I wanted to capture my contribution to the conversation, which is about how Tebow’s behavior is quite separate from Sam’s.

A football stadium is a place of public accommodation and public performance. So, when you go out on the field and perform your religion there, you are voluntarily dragging a private thing (your religion) into public view (a football game). You are putting yourself up for commentary, and despite people thinking Tebow’s performances deserved a little mockery, the number of people who’ve publicly said that Tebow’s religiosity would be a “distraction” or preclude his ability to play are actually fairly few.

Now, by comparison, your home absolutely is not a place of public accommodation and performance. Football fans and the industry which panders to them, however, have decided it’s really, really important to send camera crews into those private places so that they can capture the emotions and behavior of potential football players on draft day. And let’s be clear about something– that’s voyeurism in its most raw and pure form. It’s not enough to cover the public announcement of the players selected. The raw voyeurism of football fans is so profitable that prospects are expected to surrender their privacy during the draft.

In fact, had Sam not done the expected thing of allowing at least a small TV crew in, then the sporting press would have asked questions about why he didn’t. Was he sure he wouldn’t be drafted? Oh, the gay athlete isn’t all that good, we’re just focusing on him because he’s gay. Maybe he’s hiding something. You never know, because he’s gay and that’s still kinda scandalous or something.

So, he played it straight (no pun intended) and did his job to satisfy the voyeurism of his audiences and let a camera crew in just in case he got a call. And then he did, and they showed him doing what every other athlete does when they get the call — kissing the person he loves.

This isn’t just about bigotry. It’s also about the self-entitled voyeurism of an audience and an industry that knows they can make money off of it. I love sports, and I understand that sports are a chance for fans to feel connected to glory we won’t ourselves experience. But it should still be enough to wake up in the morning and see the draft results in the paper, see a favorite college ball player got picked, and think about how nice it’ll be to see them in the NFL next season. Nobody has a right to players’ private lives, and if you do want to shove a camera in them, well, you surrender all rights to your “just play the game” complaints.