MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

February 12, 2014

COLUMN: Wedding chapels are one thing, workplaces are another

The best conference in college football's best defender in a league that prides itself on defense said he's gay on Monday.

OK, Michael Sam, the NFL combine is but weeks away. Considering the hoopla in the media in the last 24-48 hours, they’ll definitely know who you are when you get there.

This is the NFL, where employees not only toil and sweat together, they shower together. Which is supposed to make it different than other occupations. Up to now, it’s something that he’s done through high school and college — just without drawing a paycheck in the process.

It's a manly job.

OK.

So is, so goes the stereotype, auto mechanics and construction workers.

They may not shower together. But it’s pretty much understood in those circles that acts of workplace discrimination against the occasional woman on the job are frowned upon. It’s the same thing I face, sitting here at a desk a qualified woman could occupy just as easily as a man.

Personally, I don’t care who cuts my hair as long as they don’t butcher what hair I have. Any auto mechanic who can compete with the best, I could care less who he or she is sleeping with, as long as they take care of my car when I entrust it to them. The person who writes exceptional articles is welcome in my sports department, regardless of color, age, gender or gender attraction.

With Sam, it’s obvious he’s qualified to do his job. He’s coming out of a league where a bid for an eighth consecutive national championship was brought to a halt in January. The highest projections have Sam as a second-round pick, athough following his announcement, some NFL executives voiced concern his stock was less since his coming out as a gay man would create a negative impact in a locker room.

Sam's impact helped Missouri to one of its most memorable seasons ever — the Tigers made it to the Big 12 championship in recent years —  but this was the SEC, and the Tigers went into December with national championship hopes before losing to Auburn.

If there was a disruption, it didn't seem to have much of an impact.

It shouldn't matter among mature individuals. Workers aren't supposed to sexually harass each other. That's understood when it comes to men and women in the workplace.  You're there to do a job.

So what's the big deal?

More than anything, many see Sam as the gay Jackie Robinson, as something of a social cause. Realistically, he's not even close to the first gay, or the only gay, or maybe  the only current gay, to put pads on.  If he felt the need to come out, so be it.

Having said that, I struggle to equate Sam with Jackie, a man who was barred from hotels, restaurants and restrooms of his teammates. While there have been Matthew Shepards beaten to death for nothing more than who they were, blacks once understood that widespread. Bullying, upon close inspection at any school today, knows little difference between gay and straight.

That doesn't excuse the kind of insults Sam, like Jackie, might endure, be it from fans or in the locker room as he moves forward.

But let's be clear here.  

Sam is applying for the NFL, not a marriage license. There are many uncomfortable with the latter, myself among them. Shout “bigot” and you’re not giving them the respect you’re wanting for Sam for daring to acknowledge his difference.

There are legitimately grounded reasons for those disagreements and a person has the right to disagree. How we handle those disagreements, that's another story, but we should be attempting to listen to each other more than we are.

But this is a workplace situation and Sam deserves the respect any worker does.

Mike Kays' email is mkays@muskogeephoenix.com.

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