The Kiss Seen 'Round the World

September 2014

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Ah, September. It’s a sports fan’s favorite time of year: baseball pennant races are heating up, basketball training camps are opening, the puck has been dropped on the hockey exhibition season, and — most importantly — the football season has finally kicked off. By the time you read this, we — the whole world! — will know whether the most controversial player ever to enter the pro-football draft has made the team that selected him. No, we’re not talking about Johnny Manziel, the celebrated, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Texas A&M known simply as “Johnny Football,” a 2014 first-round selection (22nd overall) of the Cleveland Browns. We’re talking about a player taken in the seventh and final round (249th overall) of the 2014 draft, the eighth-to-last player chosen. This player isn’t known for his on-the-field prowess — according to many “experts,” he’s either too small or too slow, and his skill set won’t translate to the pro level. Rather, what Michael Sam, a defensive end out of Missouri, is known for is being the first openly gay player to be drafted into the National Football League (NFL).

After the conclusion of his final college season, two months before the May draft, Sam “came out” publicly, divulging his “orientation” on the sports television network ESPN and in The New York Times. The big question around the NFL — and arguably the biggest storyline in the entire draft — was which team, if any, would draft him? Would the presence of an openly gay player divide a team? Football locker rooms aren’t known as oases of gentility and sophistication. Will one of the last bastions of naked male aggression be queered, like the U.S. military was before it?

Before the draft began, ESPN had set up cameras inside Sam’s home, hoping to capture his reaction to being drafted — an undertaking typically reserved for potential first-round picks. As the draft, and the drama, rolled into its third day, the moment finally arrived: St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher phoned Sam to inform him that he’d been selected by the team. As usually happens when a young man is drafted, the emotions burst forth and the hugging and kissing commenced — but this time with a twist. In full view of the ESPN cameras, Sam turned and planted a wet one right on the lips of his boyfriend, former Missouri swimmer Vito Cammisano.

Seth Markman, who oversaw ESPN’s draft coverage, said that among the production crew, “the reaction was, this is no different than a heterosexual guy kissing his girlfriend. It’s emotional, and let’s show it.” As part of its coverage, ESPN (which, by the way, is owned by Disney) featured reactions from a draft party at a gay bar in West Hollywood. How’s that for preparation?

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New Oxford Notes: September 2014

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