Last night I watched The Avengers and came away with a simple love for the comical, no-nonsense Hulk, who just wants to smash. It's worth noting that the movie doesn't account in any way for the fact that during the first half of the film, Hulk tries to kill everybody in his way, whereas later he will only kill the evil creatures and then he goes all huggy and becomes cute-dinosaury in the end, but whatever. The fact is that, even though I did wake up this weekend from a terrible, it-came-out-of-nowhere-except-the-everyday-experience-of-being-female rape nightmare, I personally can afford a simple love for the Hulk because I don't have real-life Hulks in my life.
But then I started thinking about Michael Sam and the NFL, and Jason Collins falling in the NBA ranks as punishment for coming out, and I realize that I'm still surrounded by macho men who have the power to destroy people's lives.
Folks talking about whether the NFL is "ready" for Michael Sam miss the fact that the NFL is a horror-show mainstream macho power structure—despite how you feel about the game of football itself—and all horror-show mainstream power structures, like, say, the enslavement of certain people and the decision to keep others from gaining the vote, do not get ready for a damn thing.
Michael Sam's assertion in itself is a blow. A gay man simply asserting his existence is an act of strength that threatens the weak strength of the NFL (what's that saying about how macho men have the weakest kind of strength?).
Because the NFL is driven by dudes who fear, more than anything, feeling the way women feel, as Coates explains:
When black soldiers joined the Union Army they were not merely confronting prejudice—they were pushing the boundaries of manhood. And when the Night Witches flew over German lines, they were confronting something more—the boundaries of humanity itself. Groups define themselves by what they are and what they are not: Niggers are never men, ladies are never soldiers, and faggots don't play football. When Michael Sam steps on a football field, he likely will not merely be playing for his career but, in some sense, for his people.
In that sense he will be challenging a deep and discrepant mythology of who is capable of inflicting violence and who isn't.
Another player (I'm sure he's very important in the NFL but I don't care enough even to write his name here) recently trotted out that old fear of taking a shower with a gay man, Coates writes:
What undergirds this logic is a fear of being made into a woman, which is to say a fear of being regarded sexually by someone who is as strong as, or stronger than, you. Implicit to the fear is the gay player's ability to do violence. It exists right alongside a belief that the gay player is a "sissy." ("Grown men should not have female tendencies. Period," Vilma once tweeted.) The logic is kin to the old Confederate belief that Southern slaves were so loyal and cowardly yet they must never be given guns.
Let's be clear: Gay men are not sexual violators. But that brainless stereotype might actually have a benefit (as long as it doesn't mean gay athletes in locker rooms and on fields are bullied and beaten by a fearful mob majority). If physically powerful pro-athlete gay men standing up for themselves forces macho straight guys into empathy, then that stereotype will have helped to dismantle a whole world of men who have never felt—and in their ignorance, are both terrified and terrifying—the firsthand, implicit threat of sexual violation, the way most women have at some point in their lives. I can't even imagine how different that world would be.
Furthermore, and maybe this sounds too radical, but the day is coming when anybody who watches the NFL and NBA and NHL and hates homophobia is going to have to start demanding that players like Collins and Sam aren't discriminated against athletically for who they are. I'm angry in advance of the draft. I want to smash the NFL.