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By Taylor Foster
With the recent celebration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, as well as it being pride month, you would think that we would still be giving Black LGBTQ people their accolades while actively in their fields. But just as Marsha P. Johnson was erased from the significance of the Stonewall riots, history is repeating itself. This time, with sports.
Yesterday, Carl Nassib, defensive end for the Las Vegas raiders, announced that he is gay via instagram. This allowed him to be declared “the first active openly gay NFL player”. While calls for celebration and thirsty tweets galore, I merely thought of how I had seen the situation before but treated it very differently. One name: Michael Sam.
Homophobia, racism contributed to Michael Sam’s dismissal
Michael was the first openly gay player to ever be drafted into the NFL. He was the Southeastern conference defensive player of the year and All-American in 2013. He was seen as at the top of the list for a first round NFL draft pick. Once major news spread about him being an openly gay player, backlash and homophobia ensued.
He was inevitably drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round. However he was only ever allowed to play on the off-season or practice squads before being dropped from the team without a contract. He went to be on the practice squad for the Dallas Cowboys before getting a contract in The CFL with the Montreal Alouettes.
This declared him the first publicly gay player in the CFL. Reports said that Michael was dropped due to decline in performance after the draft pick. They alluded to it having nothing to do with homophobia or racism. I beg to differ.
Carl Nassib being embraced while Michael Sam had target on his back
Every marginalized person knows exactly what happens when you step out of line of respectability politics. That’s when the questions of your performance starts. That’s when the side-eyes and the undermining really happens. You get put under a microscope simply for not being in line with what the people in power want you to be.
Combine that with being a part of multiple marginalized groups at the same time, and your experience becomes even worse.
The NFL and football as a whole have showed us what they deem acceptable has always been heterosexuality and whiteness. Having someone who defects from both of those things immediately puts a target on their back.
Intersectional hate worked against Michael Sam
Michael Sam is a gay Black man getting drafted into one of the most misogynistic fields in public media. As a Black man, he’s told that if he’s going to be on the field he has to be quiet and not be too opinionated.
As a gay man he’s told that he doesn’t belong there because this isn’t the space for him.
Experiencing the vitriol of both of those things at the same time put him in a very different place than anyone else. This is what we mean by intersectionality. We have to experience this as both or more at the same time.
Queer Black men receive more hatred than queer White men
Carl Nassib is White. Will he experience homophobia? Yes. Will he experience misogyny for not being a heterosexual? Yes. However, his experience is still rooted in his White privilege.
He will be able to navigate the space looking the way he looks and never have to acknowledge the fact that him being White influences his experience more than him being gay.
He will never have to deal with the amount of hatred that comes with the territory of being both Black and queer. That White privilege do be White privileging!
A moment missed for Michael Sam
While I do commend him for coming out and I believe that everyone deserves the right to live their truth freely, it’s still giving performative. After learning that this is the last year of Nassib’s contract, it’s very clear what this was: A power-play to allow another conventionally attractive white gay to claim “diversity and inclusion” off the backs of black LGBTQ people.
I will no longer be taking the minuscule crumbs of representation people give me and told to be happy with them. This should’ve been Michael Sam’s moment.
But Happy Pride month, huh?