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Michael Sam Stagecraft

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

My general sense of wishing Michael Sam well, motivated by the same sympathy and understanding I have for any person or group who may have spent much of their lives isolated, alienated or alone based on their perceived differentness, is being distracted by the recognition that we've crossed the Rubicon from respecting personal liberty to a calculated publicity campaign for Co-opted Social Issue Incorporated and its latest vertical of monetization.

Let the tolerance auction commence.  Let's carve up that enlightenment halo into tiny bits and peddle it to the smuggest bidders...

I'll explain...

That well-blocked ESPN camera shot that lingered for a while during Sam's draft pick, just happening to catch an affectionate kiss between two men wasn't spontaneous happenstance, an organic opportunity to demonstrate an evolving culture.

It was genuine enough emotion, but orchestrated.  Reality television.

The launching pad for a speedy announcement of a Oprah-backed Michael Sam reality show, kept under wraps until an unwitting franchise had committed to his selection.

Followed by a commercial with the Visa approved corporate message that Sam wishes only to be judged by his play and not by his sexuality.  Despite his sexuality as the centerpiece for his larger campaign.  The campaign in which he says it's not about that.


The Rams now have a 7th round rookie campaigning against special treatment bringing production crews funded by the most influential cultural force and billionaire in entertainment to follow his every move in training camp.  Given that the existential goal of reality television is to foment drama, seek pathos and create antagonism, that should go off without a hitch.

I don't confuse the industry of tolerance with actual tolerance.  The former is often tedious, the latter the best expression of a functioning civil society.  Social Issue Inc is marketing's coolest dinner jacket, an affectation, a shell used and eventually discarded when the culture pushes it out of chattering class fashion.  Progress sliced, diced and sold with just the right sepia-toned lighting to spin self-promotion into heroism.

Useful idiots can't distinguish between the two and the lemming calls of bigotry hurled at critics who separate them will reverberate while they swarm off of the cliffs guided by their migrational imperative to careen into the abyss of masturbatory groupthink.

Fortunately, their Team Sam local organic sans trans-fat jerseys were obtained by fair trade.  Or not.  Hard to know really.  Gonna wear it to the Rams game watch.  Does Michael Sam play quarterback?

When Sam came out to his Missouri teammates, they met the news with a collective shrug.  I think that's pretty good news about the culture.  Did some of them have problems with it?  I'd bet on it.  If their treatment of him was still equitable - who cares?  Unfortunately, this makes for flaccid reality television - a protagonist with no antagonists, except a hostile culture out in the ether.

Then he announced on a national stage and the plaudits and poster boy offers poured in.  The Michael Sam story became Important.

Publicly, Sam refused the red carpets, emphasized the need to prepare for his future job and expressed a desire to be judged on his merits.  His message: I understand my significance, but I've got a dream to play in the NFL and will best advance any bigger cause by honoring that commitment.

In my estimation, that's how he and the bigger issues of civil liberty win.  Show the normal of it all.  The mundanity.  Our commonalities.  Make a choice in lovers as unremarkable as your choice for dinner.  There's nothing awful about it, there's nothing to be celebrated about it.  No parades, no public stoning.  He came out.  Now let him get on.

Privately, his agents were taking calls from reality shows and corporate sponsors, courting suitors to build the Sam brand - one built around - what now, exactly?  Hard to say.  Football?  Real HouseLifePartners of St. Louis?  Progressive iconography?

Should we begrudge Sam for making financial hay while the sun shines?  No.  He's welcome to profit from gay the way Tim Tebow profited from pray.  Like Tebow, his social appeal likely outstrips his NFL ability.

Except that Tebow fatigue - if not outright hostility - was the eventual response to a media determined to cram the story of a magical QB who lacked NFL talent (who held religious views that put most of us in a fiery place) down our throats so unrelentingly.

For every Tebow devotee, dumb media physics created an equal and opposite detractor, weary of the circus and blatant marketing.  How will the physics of backlash against Sam's calculating marketing frenzy - though not his sexual choice - be tolerated?  I suspect we know that answer.

The marketers and Sam-handlers will conflate any criticism of the Samalanche with bigotry and disguise their stagecraft with smokescreens the way Nike had Lance Armstrong wear the cancer community like a bullet-proof vest.  They won't have to lift a finger.  There is a special breed of amateur nitwit currently dominating our culture who combs the internet seeking daily offense so they can posse-up and finger wag at perceived Thoughtcrime.  They'll do that work for them.

If Sam can profit from his ability to ride the national zeitgeist into a generous payday, have at it.  Who dares, wins.

However, the Heisenberg Effect is now driving this particular social experiment.  He can no longer be judged solely by his play.  Not once the Michael Sam reality experience launched.

So when I'm sitting in the mezzanine shelling peanuts and happen to point out the marionette strings extending down from the rafters, the visible teleprompter off stage left, the backlit scenery canvas rolling up mid-performance to reveal a smoke machine, four Teamsters carrying props and a deer-eyed director frozen in the stage lights, don't call me a bigot.

I'm cool with his sexuality.

I just can't suspend my disbelief anymore.