Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for February 11th, 2014

NFL Draft Hopeful Michael Sam Comes Out As Gay

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Someday soon, folks, I’m not going to have to write about a story like this one. At that time — whether it’s 2016, 2020, whatever — being an openly gay athlete is not going to be big-time news.

But as it’s 2014 and the NFL still doesn’t have an openly gay player (nor does MLB, the NBA, or the NHL), what a young man from Missouri, Michael Sam, has done by announcing that he is openly gay is big news.

On Sunday evening, Missouri’s All-American defensive end Michael Sam came out, officially, as gay during ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program. Sam is a legitimate NFL prospect, expected to be drafted anywhere from the third to fifth rounds, and is the reigning co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC — a very tough football conference where many of its best players often go on to illustrious NFL careers.

So you might be wondering, as I did, why Sam would choose to say this now, before any team gets a chance to draft him. The NFL seems to be homophobic (see my blog about Chris Kluwe’s experiences, and remember that Kluwe is not, himself, gay — he’s just an advocate for LGBT rights), and this may well affect Sam’s chances of getting drafted and/or signed by an NFL team.

Of course, it shouldn’t be this way.

As L.Z. Granderson points out in his article for ESPN.com, there have been gay players in the NFL at least since 1969 — Granderson quoted legendary coach Vince Lombardi as saying this: “”If I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.” (Note this was referencing a story written in 2013 by Ian O’Connor about Vince Lombardi and being pro-gay rights at a time few were.) There are numerous retired NFL players, including former Packers NT Esera Tuaolo, who was quoted in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press as saying that while he supports Sam fully, he couldn’t have done what Sam’s doing now back in the 1990s.

Sam’s openness about his sexuality has been acclaimed by former NBA player Jason Collins (who came out last year; see this blog for further details), well-known LGBT advocates and former NFL players Kluwe and Brandon Ayanbadejo, the latter writing this column for Fox Sports with a few words about Sam’s historic importance, and “You Can Play” advocate Wade Davis, himself a retired NFL player who happens to be gay.

But there’s something missing in most of the coverage about Michael Sam.

Simply put — Sam is a football player, plain and simple. More to the point, he’s a very good football player who should be drafted and can help any number of NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers, as a defensive end — Sam’s on the small side as a DE considering he’s listed at only 255 pounds, but he’s agile, light on his feet, and a hard tackler. He’s twenty-four years of age, meaning he’s mature. He’s lived through a lot of adversity in his life (the OTL piece is a must-see, if you haven’t taken it in already). And he’d be an asset in every possible way.

Yet instead of hearing about how mature Sam is, or about how much he can help a football team, we’re hearing about how historic this achievement is with regards to gay rights. And while I agree with that — it’s obvious — I just wish we were further along in this country.

Think about it, please. Why should it matter in 2014 that Michael Sam is gay if he can play football at a high level?

And why should these various NFL general managers, who are refusing to be quoted by name (such as in this piece by the Christian Science Monitor), be afraid that Michael Sam will somehow contaminate the locker room? Especially considering, as Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC program pointed out last night, that there are guys playing the NFL right now who are wife-beaters, girlfriend-beaters, who don’t pay child support for their children, who have problems with substance abuse . . . why are those players consistently finding work with these very same NFL GMs hardly batting an eye, when Michael Sam being an articulate and open gay man may cost Sam the chance to play in the NFL?

All that being said, of course I applaud Michael Sam for coming out. His stance is principled, honest, and above-board — and I respect it highly.

I just hope that by doing so, Sam hasn’t cost himself any chance at a job due to the intransigence and obduracy of the various, uncredited NFL GMs, who refuse to be quoted directly but have already cast a pall over Sam’s historic announcement.

One final thought: Is it bad of me to admit that I long for the day where a player can say, “I’m gay” and the pro sports league in question says, “So what?” (May that day come soon.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Shirley Temple Black Dies at 85

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Yesterday evening, Shirley Temple Black passed away at 85.

As I don’t normally write about movie stars, you might be wondering why I’m writing about Mrs. Black. I’ve made an exception for her, mostly because of her second career as a diplomat for the United States . . . and partly because she was an extraordinary woman in her own right, someone most people could use as an example to emulate.

This obituary from the New York Times clearly illustrates why Mrs. Black was such an astonishing woman. Here’s a few words from that obit:

Mrs. Black returned to the spotlight in the 1960s in the surprising new role of diplomat, but in the popular imagination she would always be America’s darling of the Depression years, when in 23 motion pictures her sparkling personality and sunny optimism lifted spirits and made her famous. From 1935 to 1939 she was the most popular movie star in America, with Clark Gable a distant second. She received more mail than Greta Garbo and was photographed more often than President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

. . .When she turned from a magical child into a teenager, audience interest slackened, and she retired from the screen at 22. But instead of retreating into nostalgia, she created a successful second career for herself.

After marrying Charles Alden Black in 1950, she became a prominent Republican fund-raiser. She was appointed a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969. She went on to win wide respect as the United States ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, was President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of protocol in 1976 and 1977, and became President George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Czechoslovakia in 1989, serving there during the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

The obituary also discusses Mrs. Black’s public discussion of her own breast cancer — widely credited for popularizing the need for breast cancer care, treatment, and discussion (as it used to be stigmatized, and women often suffered in silence — hard to believe in 2014, but real nonetheless), her divorce (she was married to John Agar, Jr., before marrying Mr. Black at age 21), and how difficult it was initially to come down from the dizzying heights of child stardom to become her practical, level-headed adult self.

Mrs. Black was a Republican at a time when you could be a moderate and still be successful in politics. She was a powerful woman because she was smart — she was well-regarded by Henry Kissinger, who was himself no fool — and because she never stopped trying to improve herself, her mind, and the world around her.

I’ve admired Mrs. Black’s adult career for years, but I admire it even more now that some of the missing pieces (like her early divorce) have been filled in thanks to the excellent obituary at the New York Times.

We have lost an extraordinary woman with the passing of Mrs. Black. She was an American original, and she will be greatly missed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm