Let me get one thing out of the way real quick so no one can misunderstand what I am about to say: I am a born again Christian. I think homosexuality is a sin. Just like I also think adultery, pre-marital sex, pornography, and many other sexual actions are sins as well. However, I do not hate gay people in any way. I have family members and friends who are gay and I love them all the same.
Now that we got that out of the way, let me also say this: being gay doesn't change anything about a person being a person. A gay person in my humble opinion deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity of anyone else. A person's sexual orientation does nothing to change my opinion of them or to change my love of them. There is no excuse for a person feeling like they can't be themselves without fear of discrimination or some other negative consequence.
Let me repeat that: there is absolutely no instance in which it is okay for anyone in a free society to be afraid to be themselves. Period.
So let's bring this to sports. It's not a coincidence that it's been so long for us to have an openly gay athlete. Sports are full of overly masculine and stereotypical behavior that would make most cavemen seem sophisticated. I spent time in locker rooms as both an athlete and otherwise. Locker rooms are unique atmospheres where most casual observers would think that the types of things being said are horrific. It is also full of "jokes" where weakness and being "soft" are equated with being "gay". "Gay" is too often used as an adjective to describe things that are undesirable or are not tough.
However, there is another side to locker rooms. A healthy locker room has much the same feel as siblings of a family. They can make fun and poke fun at each other, but no one outside that culture has any business saying anything about anyone in that locker room. The locker room of an sports team is one of the most tight knit communities on the planet. These men spend nearly every day with one another, and their livelihood is built around the ability to work together. Most locker rooms don't have a lot of secrets. The members of that community know each other very well, and that knowledge builds the trust they need to succeed. It also makes them the first to come to a comrade's aid in any given situation.
Enter Michael Sam. The man was a wrecking ball of a defensive end at Missouri. I personally watched him school the offensive tackles of my beloved Gators and plenty of other SEC teams on his way to earning co-defensive player of the year in the SEC. Anybody who questions his manhood should be admitted to an insane asylum. Here's the best part though: his teammates knew the whole year that he was gay. He came out to them at the beginning of the season. In that very locker room culture he was accepted. Much of it likely came from familiarity: knowledge of his sexual orientation didn't change the guy he had been for a number of years up to that point that his teammates to a man respected and enjoyed. Some of it probably stems from it being a locker room full of men who are of a generation that simply doesn't understand their being a big deal about a person's sexual orientation. I can't say I have any inside information on that Tiger's locker room, and so I am sure there was plenty of the rough and tumble stuff of an average locker room. What we do know is that locker room certainly displayed all that can be good about that environment. They accepted him as a fellow man, a comrade, and as a player that helped them win football games. Going into the draft, there's no reason to think that he won't get drafted between the second and fifth rounds and be able to contribute to a team on the field next season.
But what does all this mean to us Christians? I think first of all that this gives us a unique opportunity to counter the many accusations of bigotry that are out there. Do we live in a world where following simple tenets of your religion can make you a "bigot"? Yes, and I get that. However, the perception among sports analyst and the NFL seems to be that born again Christians could be a problem to Michael Sam's career (Israel Gutierrez said as much on last night's Around the Horn episode). This gives us an opportunity to express two things: that yes, we do hold to our belief that homosexuality is a sin. Just like any other sexual sin (it's by far not the only sexual sin we hold to and it's by a long shot not the most common in America). However, we do not let it in any way diminish the worth of a human being. Michael Sam is a human being and an American citizen. For that, he deserves every bit of respect that that entails. As an athlete, we as Christians can appreciate his talent and skill without condoning his sexuality. Yes that is possible and the world needs to hear from us that that is the case.
To my earlier point, there is no reason Michael Sam should have any fear of being treated different in a locker room, on the football field, or anywhere else for who he is. None, and Christians should be among those who defend his civil rights and the respect he deserves as a human being to that extent. We show the world Christ by His love and like it or not, Jesus loves Michael Sam the person as much as He loves me or you. Does Jesus like Michael Sam's sin? No. No more than He likes my sin or yours. Christians have a unique opportunity to show the athletic community and the world the love of Jesus by being good fans of his athletic ability and by being as respectful as possible in disagreeing with his sexual orientation. If the Jaguars were to draft Michael Sam, I would cheer for him and wish for him to have thirteen sacks and be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and I certainly hope I wouldn't be alone in that.
This story only serves to illustrate how homosexuality is becoming more and more mainstream in our society. There are plenty of issues from a Christian perspective that arise from this in the arenas of family values and the role model's our children take. Michael Sam may be the first, but he certainly will not be the last openly gay athlete we have in the four major sports. While it is important as Christians to not surrender our values, it is important we use this opportunity to show Christ' love by our actions, our words, and by our reaction to this major social issue of the sporting world. While I personally look forward to a day when an athlete's sexual orientation isn't front page news and his athletic ability is, what I truly look forward to is a day when Christian's treat homosexual's the same way we should treat every other sinner: with the heart of Christ.