The bigotry has come rolling in, like a fog off the coast.
Those tweets weren't aimed at the player selected in this draft who was accused of getting into a domestic dispute with his pregnant girlfriend. Or the lineman drafted that's facing assault charges. Or the quarterback who failed a drug test and then claimed the failure was due to drinking too much water. He didn't tweet "OMG" at former Pro Bowler Darren Sharper being accused of raping multiple women.
No, he tweeted "OMG" over a kiss.
And there was more bigotry over Sam's show of affection with his boyfriend. Mississippi basketball player Marshall Henderson tweeted:
Then he doubled down:
Henderson didn't think it was sickening, or horrific, for his little brothers to know that a player in the same state was arrested for burglary. No, Henderson didn't seem to tweet he had a huge problem with that. Because, you know, stealing a kiss is obviously worse than stealing another man's property.
Marshall later tweeted that his remarks were part of some type of experiment for a friend. Yeah. Sure. OK.
First, let's get the rest of the false choices out of the way. This is not about freedom of speech. Always see that excuse flying around social media. The Constitution protects free speech even if that speech crosses into the realm of hateful rhetoric, general lunacy and overall dumbassness. That is true. People are free to say what they want, and others are free to point out what was said crossed a line.
As for Henderson, he's done in the NCAA and almost assuredly will never be the NBA's to punish.
Second, the "hurt the kids" argument is laughable. The same people who probably let their kids watch some of the worst crap on television and in movies (not to mention the video games) are now concerned about a kiss.
Third, we won't go down the rabbit hole of religion, but if you object to Sam because you claim the Bible tells you so, the Bible also forbids shellfish, divorce and tattoos. So good luck with that.
Fourth, and I'll make this point quick. There is something even worse, genuinely awful, about African-American men being hateful towards gays. That level of double standard is almost unfathomable.
If someone is uncomfortable with a man kissing a man, then, well, whatever. But it's hypocrisy and bigotry. That's it. That is all.
The bigotry has gotten so pungent it's pulling in even former NFL players.
There was a time when many people were uncomfortable with differing races kissing in public. When Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner shared the first interracial kiss in television history during an episode of Star Trek in 1968, there was outrage, but it was also a pivotal moment of progress. While there will still be some who hate interracial dating, most polling data show the majority of Americans no longer care if two different races date or marry.
Sam's kiss is the same. Decades from now, that kiss will be seen as a defining moment, and it will be viewed positively, and no one will care about people of the same gender being in love. But for now, for right now, a strong strain of anti-gay bigotry still runs through our society and the sports world.
What we are seeing with Sam is something I predicted long ago: that when a player came out, there would be massive support, but also fierce bigotry. What we will see with Sam is mostly the best of humanity, but we will also see the worst.
Some of this bigotry is cloaked under the guise of statements like: I'm not a bigot, I just disapprove of Sam's lifestyle. In 1958, some 94 percent of Americans "disapproved" of interracial marriage. Most Americans today would say such disapproval was bigotry. The same applies to Sam.
Sam has received congratulations from all corners of the country, including the White House. But as I tweeted in the hours after he was drafted, several league sources told me at least one team removed Sam from its draft board out of fear he'd be a distraction. I suspect the number of teams that did that is slightly more than a few. There was far more trepidation about drafting Sam—from what I'm being told now—than generally known.
The Rams' Jeff Fisher, however, didn't care about Sam's sexual orientation. It fits with who Fisher is. He's been involved in pro football as a player or coach since 1981, and people who know Fisher well say he has always been an open-minded, forward-thinking person. Fisher, according to numerous sources, has long viewed Sam as a viable pro prospect and was never shaken by Sam's poor combine results. The Rams believe Sam, if used creatively, can be a force on their already impressive defensive line.
There is also the almost laughable comparison of Sam to Jackson Jeffcoat. Sam was the SEC defensive player of the year, and Jeffcoat was the same in the Big 12. The argument goes: Jeffcoat wasn't drafted, so how could Sam dropping to the seventh round be bigotry?
The previous seven SEC defensive players of the year had been drafted no lower than 17th overall. Also, the Big 12 is a terrible conference, not even in the same universe as the SEC, which until this year had won seven straight titles. The flagship school in the Big 12, the University of Texas, didn't have a single player drafted this year.
|SEC defensive players of the year|
|2011||Morris Claiborne||Louisiana State||6th|
|2010||Patrick Peterson||Louisiana State||5th|
|2007||Glenn Dorsey||Louisiana State||5th|
One question constantly asked: If Fisher liked Sam so much as a player, why didn't he draft him earlier? Go back to Fisher's time in the league—over three decades spent in the NFL. He's seen a ton of drafts and is more than intelligent enough to know when a player is sliding down a board, and it was clear that by the middle of the fifth round, Sam was sliding. (Don't buy the narrative that Sam was always destined to be a seventh-rounder. That's just not accurate.)
So Fisher made a football decision. He simply waited to get Sam at the lowest price possible. It was smart. That's what smart football men do.
The NFL will be watching the treatment of Sam closely. Said one league official, "I can tell you we will come down hard on anyone who goes after him (Sam) because he's gay. Players, coaches, owners…anyone. No discrimination will be tolerated."
This is why the Dolphins came down so forcefully and quickly on Jones.
Sam represents something we've never seen before, like that interracial kiss decades ago. It's different. Seeing an openly gay NFL player is just different, and that has led to bigotry. And yes, it is bigotry. No matter how anyone tries to cloak it.
Sam will be treated well mostly. But one thing is also clear, as the tweets we've seen from athletes in just 24 hours post-kiss show: The fog of bigotry still runs thick.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.