I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael Sam’s kiss on public television and the public reaction to it by the media and pundits on the right. The right has portrayed itself as the victim of the kiss in a couple different ways: ESPN exposed children who were watching a football draft to a homosexual kiss that parents didn’t want their children to see (thus undermining the inability of parents to protect traditional family values in their homes on “family television”). The fines imposed on Miami Dophin player Don Jones for his tweet “OMG” and “horrible,” show that people can’t express what they feel (and thus an example of political correctness and suppression of free speech).
I can kind of understand some of these reactions. Not because I was offended by the kiss, I’m not. I can understand such reactions because those on the Right are seeing their traditional world view come tumbling down and nothing symbolizes that fact more, perhaps, than a kiss of a football player with his boyfriend (except perhaps when we see two male generals kiss each other in the military). For all of those trying to hold onto an idealized vision of America that has long been associated with the white, Christian, heterosexual culture, nothing can perhaps symbolize the crumbling of that traditional world view than such a kiss.
Football, after all, has become almost as powerful a symbol of America as the American Flag or baseball, the “national pastime.” In addition, football is a symbol of masculinity in our culture. Even more than baseball and up there with the military, football symbolizes virility, strength, competitiveness and of course “heterosexuality,” values traditionally associated with the traditional image of masculinity. There are only a few other contexts one can imagine in which a gay kiss can say as powerfully as this one that things in America are different. And things in America are different.
So I feel for those on the right who have reacted as victims. The traditional world they want to hold onto is crumbling. The vision of a white, heterosexual, Christian culture that they imagine the founders to have desired is continuing to transform. There are peoples of other colors, religions and sexualities who have a right to be in the public domain with their desires, beliefs and commitments. And while those who want to protect traditional values may feel victimized by seeing a gay kiss in both a symbolically charged and traditionally masculine domain, they forget that the tables used to be turned and all those who were not Christian, white, and heterosexual and had to deal with a public culture that did not share their values and commitments and reminded them of it all the time. In the meantime, we are continuing to pursue our relentless quest for equality for all and a public American culture, and an understanding of masculinity and sexuality, that can be as diverse as the population of American citizens.