Half a century ago, scared and angry white folks bemoaned the fate of the world and their place in it should blacks be granted equality. “Separate But Equal” and Jim Crow laws only delayed the inevitable reality that good, God-fearing white folks would have to associate with “them” as equals. As time went by, barriers fell, attitudes changed, and blacks (now “African-Americans”) reached, if not full equality, at least something far closer to it. African-Americans today enjoy equal rights under the law and equality in virtually all aspects of modern life. Reality may differ from the law in some places, but our legal system no longer consigns African-Americans to second-class status. The color of one’s skin finally matters less than the content of one’s character.
Fast forward to today, and replace “black” with “gay;” another minority class struggles to be granted the same rights the majority takes for granted. Even as attitudes change and barriers crumble, there are those firmly who remain firmly rooted in hatred and prejudice. The characters may change, the story remains much the same, but over this past weekend another brick was removed from the wall.
Michael Sam, the first openly professional football player in the LGBT community, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. For a football player, being drafted by an NFL team is the culmination of a lifelong dream validating the pain and sacrifices required to reach the mountain top. It can be a moment of unbridled joy, and televising an ecstatic player surrounded by elated friends and family is a time-honored tradition. When Sam was selected, ESPN’s camera’s showed him kissing an unidentified man in celebration. ESPN broadcast the kiss as it happened; no one at the network gave it a second thought. The possibility of Sam kissing another man hadn’t been considered controversial enough to discuss. To the staff in ESPN’s production truck, it was a moment of joy, an honest, open celebration no different from those they’d seen so many times before…except that this time it was different. Another barrier had fallen, though not everyone was excited about it.
Once other networks picked up ESPN’s feed, the reaction among the less than open-minded was swift and predictable- from relatively tame (former NFL player Derrick Ward and University of Texas QB Case McCoy) to just plain ugly. Some have apologized, some stand by their reactions, but the fact that negative reactions to “The Kiss” have met with almost universal disdain and disapproval is cause for hope. Soon one man kissing another in a display of joy and exhilaration will be cause for celebration and not condemnation. Those who hate will be left behind as time passes them by. Half a century from now we’ll look back and recognize the LGBT community’s struggle for equality as similar to the struggle of African-Americans…because it is. Who says history isn’t circular?
Before too much longer, the content of one’s character will matter far more than who and how one chooses to love. The sight of one man kissing another will be merely a commonplace expression of love and affection between two people. A kiss will be just a kiss – not a social, moral, or political statement.
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that the moral arc of history is long and it bends towards justice. Over the weekend, that arc bent just a little bit more.
See Michael Sam get drafted by the Rams for yourself here.