The big story in professional football is the news that Michael Sam, an All-American linebacker from the University of Missouri, has announced that he is gay just a couple of months before entering the NFL Draft. And, as expected, there are numerous talking heads lining up on both sides of the issue. In the upcoming weeks and months, you will hear over and over and over about "tolerance", "homophobes", and "acceptance" as the gay community rushes to make Sam this week's hero, while the Christian community will retort with their tried-and-true game plan of quoting scripture and calling homosexuals an abomination and an offense to God. But what neither side will admit is that apathy is what is needed in this situation.
Instead of talking specifically about Mr. Sam and his upcoming foray into the world of the NFL, let's compare this situation to another problem the NFL used to deal with every season, the "black quarterback". Back in the 1970's and 80's, anytime a black quarterback come into the league, there would always be a huge stigma attached to him. "Black quarterbacks can't win." "Black quarterbacks can't read defenses" (i.e. black QB's are stupid). "Black quarterbacks are running quarterbacks." And the list would go on and on with other thinly veiled (and sometimes not so thinly veiled) insults about a black QB's ability, intelligence, and attitude. Thankfully, this would all start to change in the mid-80's.
In 1977, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Doug Williams with the 17th pick on the draft. In 5 seasons as a starter for the Buccs, Williams managed to lead the team to 3 playoff appearances. After a short stint in the USFL, Williams came back to the NFL to play for the Washington Redskins. In 1987, Williams took over the QB duties after starter Jay Schroeder was injured. Williams led a brilliant playoff run, culminating in a 42-10 Super Bowl victory over John Elway and the Denver Broncos. The Redskins has an amazing record-setting 2nd quarter that saw the team score 5 offensive TDs, with 4 of those coming on TD passes from Williams.
Naturally, after the game the biggest story was the fact that Williams was the first "black QB" to win a Super Bowl. At the time, Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham were the only two other star black QB's in the league. Williams' landmark victory opened the door for a rush of black QB's in the 90's including Rodney Peete, Jeff Blake, Steve McNair, Kordell Stewart, as well as many others. In 1999, there were 3 black QB's taken in the first round (Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, and Daunte Culpepper) as well as 2 other eventual starters in Shaun King (2nd round) and Aaron Brooks (4th round). Still, the stigma was there and many in the media continue to label them "black QB's" and would consistently measure their stats separately while comparing them to the league overall.
The 2000's saw the trend continue and expand as players like Michael Vick, Byron Leftwich, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, and JaMarcus Russell all entered the league. What most people began to realize is that it really didn't matter what color the QB was, what mattered was whether he could play or not. McNabb, Vick, and Culpepper were all perennial All-Stars, while Smith, Young, and Russell flamed out after promising college careers that couldn't translate to the NFL. Which was no different than seeing white QBs like Drew Bledsoe and Peyton Manning succeed while the white QB's drafted right next them, Rick Mirer and Ryan Leaf, fail miserably.
Now, back to the point of the article. Today, the overwhelming majority of fans don't care about the color of the QB, all they care about are the colors of the jersey and the wins produced. Thankfully, after Russell Wilson won the Super Bowl this year, the majority of the stories had nothing to do with him being a "black QB". The stories about Wilson were more directed to how his father believed in him and pushed him to be the best he could be, and about how Wilson is very much undersized for a professional quarterback and how he has managed to overcome those odds. Today, television and radio commentators rarely (if ever) separate out the stats for Wilson, RGII, or Cam Newton just because they are a "black QB". Indifference on the part of the fans and media regarding the color of the QB's skin is the best possible outcome.
Those people out there screaming from the rooftops for tolerance and acceptance need to realize that those two concepts are completely different things. Tolerance is letting people do what they want without fear of recourse, provided that they are not doing something that injures or has the potential to injure someone else's person or property. Acceptance is having someone not only tolerate an opposing point of view (or lifestyle), but going further and agreeing with that point of view (or lifestyle). What these people also need to realize is that you can never get everyone to accept everything. For example, Christians will never accept the gay lifestyle, it goes against their core beliefs. The goal is not to get them to accept it, but to tolerate it. And the highest form of tolerance is to not care. Once a person doesn't care one way or the other, then it becomes a non-issue. Once a society doesn't care, then it becomes an accepted norm in that society.
Hopefully, one day, our society won't care about a lot of the issues that are so dividing today. Instead, individuals will be judged based on their character and kind of person they are. My wife and I make it a point to teach our kids that there are good and bad people regardless of their skin color, sexual preferences, religious preferences, political leanings, or any other of their likes and dislikes. The key is to find friends that treat you right and that you can have a good time with, so that your "I Don't Care" attitude can be front and center. Black or white? Gay or straight? Democrat or Republican? Cowboys or Redskins? It shouldn't matter as long as the two of you "click". Besides, hanging out with people different from you makes for far more interesting conversation and you might just learn something from each other as well.
Of course, there are too many in our society that make a living from keeping these issues in our consciousness and on the front pages. So, as Mr. Sam begins his journey into the high-profile world of the NFL, we will hear countless stories about his sexuality, and everyone from the players and the owners, down to the groundskeepers and janitors that work in the NFL, will be asked for their opinion on Sam and his affect on the team he plays for. If all of us could just give a collective "I DON'T CARE!!!!" shout back to the media and those pushing this agenda, maybe once the fall gets here, we can all go back to rooting for our favorite teams and rooting against our friends favorite teams regardless of who the players are (or aren't) sleeping with.