Unless you were living under a rock this past weekend, I’m sure by now you’re seen it. Seen what? The “kiss heard ’round the world” of course. You know, the televised kiss(es) shared by a relieved (and likely overwhelmed) Michael Sam and his boyfriend after the St. Louis Rams drafted Sam in this year’s NFL draft. It was a beautiful moment of pure emotion caught on camera (and if we’re being honest with ourselves isn’t that why we watch the draft? To see those moments of joy and tearful relief on the faces of the young men and their families who’ve just learned their wildest dreams have come true?). Anyway, watching that kiss between a tearful Sam and his partner I couldn’t help but think; “this is more than a joyful kiss, this is an act of loving revolution.”
“The personal is political.”
Not that Michael Sam and his partner intended it that way. I would venture to guess that the kiss wasn’t preplanned or staged in any way. I assume that it was simply a moment of pure emotion, love and support between the two. No different in any other context than a kiss between another draftee and his family or girlfriend/wife. But no matter what Sam and his partner intended, when a moment is televised it becomes part of the public domain, open to interpretation and full of symbolism. As such, it’s one thing for an athlete to say he’s gay but it’s something completely different for that athlete to publicly display affection for a partner on live TV.
Never before has an openly gay athlete kissed their partner on live television (please correct me if I’m wrong on this). In fact, I can’t think of any openly gay athlete who has even been photographed or filmed (by mainstream media) with their partner at an event or during an interview. Period. It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines; “you can (finally) talk about it, but we don’t want to see it. Hide your love and your affection. Be a dear and keep it away from the viewing public for us, okay? Thanks.”
Sam’s “kiss heard ’round the world” was, intentionally or not, a “fuck that” to ESPN (I’m looking at you Chris Broussard), the NFL and anyone else invested in that status quo. When Sam first came out publicly, he knew it could hurt his draft status and cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars (which it did – he’s now only the 2nd SEC Defensive Player of the Year to be drafted outside of the first two rounds and when it comes to the draft picks, the higher the number the lower the salary. Sam was picked 249th). He played a game of chicken with the NFL and won, even though it cost him plenty of paper. Most men would have stopped there (if they even made it that far), but not Sam. Having just stared down the NFL and won, he added to his display of strength and willpower with a kiss. Sending another message to the NFL in the process; “Ok, great, I’m in… but if you think I’m going to hide who I am after all of this… you’re dead wrong!”
I’m well aware that Michael Sam and his partner aren’t the first gay couple (real or imaginary) to kiss on television. I’m also well aware the fight for LGBTQ rights and acceptance has gone on for a long while now and it certainly didn’t start with Sam. Those who know me know I can be mighty cynical, but I don’t want to be so cynical that I can’t celebrate this moment. It’s a first and we’re a society obsessed with celebrating firsts. The kiss deserves celebration, damn it! As much as Sam being drafted does.
Finally, let us not forget that we live in a world where the NFL is still the bastion of hetero-normative masculinity. In this world, a professional football player kissing his boyfriend is a revolutionary act of love that matters. And like all revolutionary acts, it will create change… Only this time around the revolution will be televised.
Congratulations to Michael Sam. I’d also like to wish him the best in his career and his relationship!