The other night I received an e-mail to my personal inbox with a subject line that read, “I’m scared.” It was a message from a teenaged boy living in the South, unsure of his sexuality and with nowhere else to turn. It gutted me.
A bit of backstory: When Dan Savage began his “It Gets Better Campaign” back in 2010, I, being a gay man, leapt at the opportunity to share my story online and, in the process, offered my personal e-mail as an outlet for all those questioning themselves who were too scared to confide in anyone they knew. In the four years since, my inbox has received a steady stream of messages from people I’m a stranger to, looking for a beacon of hope.
For those of us who live in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or New York, areas with large gay communities that are, for the most part, accepted and celebrated, it’s easy to forget that there’s a large portion of this country (and the planet — hello, Russia!) where being openly gay can be a terror.
And so when we look at moments like Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive lineman who bravely announced his homosexuality on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Sunday (Feb. 9), months before the NFL draft, it’s easy for us to shout, “This shouldn’t be news! Gays should be accepted!”
Or when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis take “Same Love,” their stirring and personal plea for equal rights, to the 2014 Grammys last month with a powerful performance that celebrated love in all its forms while performing marriages of both straight and same-sex couples, it’s easy to us to roll our eyes and shout, “What a stunt! He’s appropriating the gay struggle for accolades!”
But that cynical, myopic view of things does no one any good, least of all those scared kids watching from home. Sports and hip hop are two of the areas of pop culture where there is much work to be done when it comes to the inclusion of the gay population — which is what makes these events important.
When Michael Sam comes out and powerful figures within the sports community step up to defend him, as Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen did during a segment on ABC local affiliate WFAA on Monday (Feb. 10), it’s an opportunity for a message of acceptance to reach a population that probably isn’t listening to Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way.”
During his segment, titled “Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating Our Differences,” Hansen took the NFL and its fans to task for revering players with particularly abhorrent behavior, before pointing out the hypocrisy in fretting over Sam’s sexuality:
“You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they’re welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We’re comfortable with that.
“You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!”
Hansen’s not the only media personality to speak against the bigotry and hypocrisy. “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have each lent their satiric brilliance to conversation. NBC Sports’ Joe Posnanski has written a thoughtful and measured look at what Sam means to sports history that deserves to be read in full immediately.
These are good things. This is how progress is made and hope is given. When a homophobic dad turns on the sports report and sees the anchor he’s watched for years voice a pro-gay opinion, he might take something to heart. When a scared kid hears “Same Love” on the radio, she might not feel so alone. That’s the power of media, the responsibility of it.
It’s my sincerest hope that I never have to receive an email similar to the ones I’ve gotten ever again. Not because I don’t want to help, but because I long for the day when no one needs my help. To get there, it’s going to take a lot more Michael Sams, a lot more Dale Hansens and a lot more Macklemores. From where I stand, we’ve got a pretty good start — but there’s still a long way to go.