Sunday, February 16, 2014
I watched a true film today called Fruitvale Station. Only hours before, I read about Michael Sam being an instrument of change as the first gay football prospect in the NFL. We have evolved, but times move slow. Oscar Grant was a young black man trying to do the right thing. Society has changed so much yet so little. In the wrong place at the wrong time intersecting with a white gang banger from prison two years earlier. But when the two cross paths on New Year’s Eve on a train, the latter was the aggressor. Many witnesses recorded the entire incident as police dragged boys off the train. White cops pulling black guys off the train. Not the white bangers. And then it went all wrong. The cops got aggressive. Physical. Even though Oscar was cuffed, lying on his belly, a cop pulled his gun, and shot this young man in the back. Michael Sam, a survivor…a young man who has survived losing a two-year old baby sister, an older brother who disappeared presumed dead, two other brothers shot and killed during his formative years. But Mike channeled his energy into football and excelled. From a small coastal town in southeast Texas, Sam was recruited to Mizzou, and he grew. But it wasn’t until he unveiled being gay in August 2013, that he released the burden of the secret to his teammates and his coach, that he became a giant. Tied sack records, led a team to an SEC championship, and won SEC defensive player of the year. He announces his lifestyle to beat the leak to the press. His draft status? Mid-third round to fifth… In the words of journalist Dale Hansen, “the best defensive player in the best conference in football and he’s a third round pick at best? Really?” Oscar had a good heart and a volatile temper. But he tried desperately to do good. To be good. And witnesses corroborate his last day of having fun, of celebrating New Year’s Eve, and then of being profiled and brutally murdered in Fruitvale Station. It sounds like a story from the 60s, maybe even the 80s, but surely not the late 2000s, right? Wrong. 2009. Racial profiling. Homophobia. Internalized fear, judgment, even hatred. We are all different colors. We are all different people, like different things, have different beliefs, and view the world differently. Our perceptions are different because our lives are different, our upbringing is different, and our outsides are different. But our insides aren’t so different. We all bleed the same color, need the same sustenance, and cry the same tears. Oscar Grant was judged by the color of his skin, but his history will generate conversations about profiling, about judging, and about trying to break down that ever-present barrier. Michael Sam is trying to break down a newer barrier. He could have passed. He did not have to out himself to his teammates. He could have stayed hidden in a closet. Instead, he has opened the door for kids of color, for athletes, for a society that needs to recognize that we are all human. How can our predilections in the bedroom impact how people interact with one another? What right do people have to judge others for the color of their skin or their sexual preference? The same people, as Dale Hansen put it, the very same people who want the government out of our lives but yet they want them in our bedrooms…. Time changes slowly. Oscar Grant was a victim of that truth. Of how little ground we have gained. Michael Sam is trying to be an instrument to propel that change. If we stand by and do nothing, then we are doing something: we’re holding the Oscars and Michaels back. If you’re silent, your silence is your voice. Have a voice. Stand up. Embrace change and our differences. Don’t let the loudest voices be those of the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church. Strip away color and money and sexual orientation and gender and age… and ultimately we should be left with a society seeking human equality. One about love, about peace, about acceptance. Life moves slow. It’s up to all of us to be an instrument of change.