Drafting Michael Sam doesn't solve the problem of prejudice
The Apostle Paul, lover of all, is an example to us of Jesus’ endless forgiveness and his eternal love, one without condition or prejudice. Though you might not think of him as that, in his day-in-age pPaul was majorly progressive. And He was because Jesus brought him there. Here’s what he tells the Corinthians:
“From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
For me, the idea that we don’t regard anyone from a worldly point of view means that we don’t hold any prejudices when including people in the community of Christ we are forming with Him. This isn’t always easy and it doesn’t always look the same, but it’s obedient to do so and I’m committed to inclusion and working out all of the difficulty that comes with it.
The church is uniquely outside of the public and private sectors, and so as an Anabaptist-type, I end up being an observer and advocate when I see the world not applying Paul and Jesus’ example. Of course, what else would I expect? At the same time, the church is often at the forefront of disobeying God on these things too, known for exclusion and judgment before anything.
I was reminded of this when I was listened to the big story in the world of sports. Michael Sam, the All-American football player who is the top defensive player in the SEC (the best NCAA football conference), who is expected to go in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft, came out as gay a few days ago.
Of course, the news media’s reaction has been fascinating. The NFL is most opportunistic of all the professional leagues, so everything must be put in the context of Roger Goodell’s imperial ambitions and profit-over-players mentality. For him, without a doubt, the question he is considering whether this is a profitable news story or not. Does Michael Sam make me money? There are numerous problem with his pursuit of wealth that compromise his ability to declare that the old has come and that the new is here. Most NFL teams’ staff won’t be able to objectively determine whether Michael Sam will be valuable to their team or not without including their prejudice.
The problem of résumés, interviews, and “objective” assessment is that they are never such. Racism in the U.S. has taught us this time and again. And of course, the way that that state has tried to balance the playing field is through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But most of the privileged among us find that to be unfairly unbalancing the playing field against their favor (as if it hasn’t been balanced in their favor forever or something).
There are some people who are blatantly prejudicial. Twitter specializes in these folks. But to me, that’s not really the worst kind of danger. The worst danger is saying that you aren’t, passing legislation that shows you aren’t, even proudly drafting a gay player and then, “for other reasons,” finding him unfit for the job. We can pretend to be inclusive through diversity and through the right legislation, but if more black people end up being imprisoned then were enslaved in 1850, then what are we talking about?
The law doesn’t work, clearly. We can’t include people through a “worldly point of view,” like Paul is saying, Jesus has to be part of the equation. We need to philosophically come to conclusions through our mutual discernment that He is leading, not through other means that might end up feeling satisfied but still prejudicial.
Ex-Phillie (really, ex-Ranger, but I’m a Phillies man) Michael Young said this to ESPN recently:
If a college program can pull it off, you'd like to think a bunch of paid professionals can do the same," Young told ESPN 103.3 FM. "For me, it comes down to, 'Can this guy help us win? Is he a winning piece? Can he execute on the field and be a good teammate in the locker room?' I'd like to think it wouldn't be an issue at all, and all the teams I played on, I know it definitely wouldn't have been an issue.
The meritocratic world that Young lives in proves that we can say we aren’t prejudicial, because we have gay friends or black friends or whatever, and still act out our prejudice unconsciously or consciously. Diversity doesn’t make us anti-racist and mere acceptance of gay people, doesn’t make us not homophobic. The problem with a meritocracy is that is covers up prejudice rather well.
Dale Hansen begins to get something in this clip. His passionate speech moved Facebook on Thursday. I appreciated his acknowledgment that the road to freeing ourselves of prejudice is a long one. He remark about black quarterbacks resonated with me, but again on Super Bowl week, I was reminded that still a “scrambling quarterback” (read: black) is rarely put on the same level as a “pocket passer” (read: white). The prejudice still haunts us.
Jon Stewart offered a similar speech. When we begin to compare Michael Sam to criminals or those accused of violent or sexual crimes, we enter a complicated world. I don’t like making the comparison because it’s not worthy to be made because it’s so often prejudicial in and of itself. First of all, Sam didn’t commit a crime. Second of all, the NFL’s acceptance of ex-convicts or people accused of crimes isn’t exactly motivated by justice (more often than not, it’s motivated by wins), but it is still fairly revolutionary.
In most of these cases, in another professional setting, getting a job would be impossible. And in the case of Michael Vick, for example, who did his time (probably more time because of the color of his skin) and was given a second chance, the question then becomes about whether a black convict is ever exonerated for his crime after he’s served his punishment?
I wonder if we can learn to be inclusive of people, help them follow Jesus, without doing it at the expense of someone else—is the only way to honor Michael Sam to bring up the evil conduct of NFL players and its acceptance of them?
I wonder if we can empathize with the fact that the world is filled with hate, hated Jesus, and will hate us too. The road that any person who is oppressed will be harder than the ones that others have to travel down. I think it’s OK to call it a problem and work toward justice together. And not just justice as the world does it, the kind that answers the civil rights movement with a war on drugs, but a kind that Jesus offers that makes us all new creations working toward bringing the Kingdom of God here today. Every Jesus-follower is honorable and must be honored because each is given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”