To Live As Decent Human Beings

Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964
Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964

Ain’t nothing going to be handed to you on a silver platter, nothing. That’s not just black people, that’s people in general, masses. See, I’m with the masses. So, you don’t ever get nothing,[don’t] just walk up and say, “Here it is.” You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way, you’ve got to fight.

– Fannie Lou Hamer

Last night in a well-oiled media blitz, Michael Sam revealed that he’s gay. The surefire NFL draft pick was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. Now I’m not much of a football person, but I do know that’s not a small feat. Soon after Sam revealed his news, though, a gaggle of faceless, anonymous NFL executives and scouts voiced their opinions to Sports Illustrated on the matter. It wasn’t a profile in courage or decency:

“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?'”

It’s not human nature, it’s bigoted nature. Anyways…

“That will break a tie against that player,” the former general manager said. “Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'”

I’ve written about the whole, “We can’t let blacks and women into the workplace because they’d disrupt things” jargon before. Sad to see this guy holds true to that general philosophy.

“It’s one thing to have Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo, advocates for gay rights, on your team. It’s another to have a current confirmed player.”

I find it uncomfortable that these men in positions of power and authority over Michael Sam’s NFL future were allowed to anonymously spout out such tripe.

But getting to the substance of their stupidity, I’d like to ask these phantasms of cowardice when, exactly, they believe the time will be right for a “confirmed player?” At what point will the NFL be ready to look past the confirmations of Michael Sam or another gay player?

Their suggestions and insinuations are the same old tired script of faux progress. The so-called moderate who advocates gradualism. Let’s all wait for the majority to accept an individual’s rights and abilities. In the end though, that moderation turns into glacial, if any, progress in the face of hardline opposition. The idea that people have to wait for others to give them their respect is how intolerant inertia reigns supreme. And those accepted and protected by the intolerant inertia, say NFL execs, have no imperative to push forward.

These anonymous execs should sit down and learn a thing or two from a seminal season in our country’s history: Freedom Summer.

A decade after the Supreme Court mandated desegregation, Jim Crow still stood tall in the South. So in 1964 black and white civil rights workers invaded Mississippi for Freedom Summer and demanded the right for all of Mississippi’s people to vote. In the words of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer – a poor, black sharecropper – they were “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Met with bristling resistance, Hamer and others crashed the Democratic Party’s National Convention and threw down the gauntlet.

In contrast to our wimp NFL execs, Hamer stated her full name and street address on national TV, daring some KKK member or white supremacist to silence her. After recalling how she was brutally beaten for registering to vote, Hamer questioned men who professed good intentions but then hid behind excuses:

“Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

That same summer David Dennis gave a eulogy at the funeral for three murdered civil rights workers. In that eulogy he shamed the apathy and complacency of simply waiting for help and change:

But what I want to talk about right now is the living dead that we have right among our midst, not only in the state of Mississippi but throughout the nation. Those are the people who don’t care [and] those who do care but don’t have the guts enough to stand up for it…

As it so happens, we’re also on the 50th anniversary of NBA players being sick and tired of being sick and tired. After 10 years of attempted negotiation, the NBA’s players decided the time had come for a dramatic move.

In Boston, the NBA’s 1964 All-Stars went on strike. Led by Tommy Heinsohn and Oscar Robertson the players refused to take the court for the All-Star Game until their demands for a pension fund were met. With a rare nationally televised game, the players knew they finally had a pressure point to coerce the owners. After much bluster – including the Lakers owner demanding Jerry West and Elgin Baylor “get their asses” on the court – NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy relented. The union was recognized and a pension was subsequently created. Huge confrontations lay on the horizon, but the players undeniably benefitted from refusing the status quo.

Now here we are 50 years later and yet another status quo needs dismantling.

We’re now at the point where gay athletes are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They aren’t willing to put up with silence, mistreatment, and being the living dead. And that’s the greatest fear these shiftless NFL execs have. It’s the same fear segregationists had in Dixie of whites and blacks working together for equality. It’s the same fear the NBA’s owners had of players (i.e. employees) demanding basic labor rights.

In the face of fanatic opposition and, just as toxic, uncaring complacency, Sam, Robertson, and Hamer called for a simple, yet tall order: to live as decent human beings.

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