Michael Sam Deservingly Received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award

Speaking of out, gay athletes, last night at the ESPN ESPY’s, professional football player, Michael Sam, was the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Considering all the events and controversy that have surrounded his name – and his mere existence – it’s hard to imagine very many professional athletes more deserving of a courage award.

During his emotional speech, Sam, who was presented with the award by Dwayne Johnson, spoke of the importance of being true to one’s self. He mentioned a friend who’d asked him to speak to his sister who was so overwhelmed by the fear of coming out to her family that she’d been contemplating suicide. However, after speaking with Michael, she promised to never harm herself. It’s awful that anyone would be driven to such measures just because people are so hateful, and we live in a society that encourages our LGBT brothers and sisters to believe more in this hate than to love themselves for who they are.

Naturally, the comments section under the video is laced with vile, homophobic remarks. However, it is extremely heartening to see the swift and numerous replies suggesting to the original posters where they could shove their homophobia. I wasn’t surprised at all to see the anti-gay comments; what really surprised me is the fact that so many of them are based on false and misleading ideologies that these people genuinely believe to be true. One commenter poses the question that if there is nothing wrong with being gay, “would you advice (sic) yall kids to be gay?” Even today, in 2014, this person is evidently completely under the impression that being gay is something that can be taught and therefore adopted. Another user tried to prove their point by quoting statistics, allegedly from the CDC (I call bullshit) which ultimately led to him arguing that heterosexuals who “never engage in homosexual acts” become infected with STDs from blood transfusions from HIV/AIDS-infected homosexuals. Again, we are in 2014, and this person seems unaware of – or unwilling to accept – the fact that HIV and/or AIDS can be, and very often is, transmitted through heterosexual intercourse, because it is not – as so many homophobes like to argue – a “gay disease”. They also seem blindly unaware of the fact that homosexuals (at least those who are open about their orientation and sexual habits) are legally prohibited from donating blood. This just goes to show how hatred is spawned so easily from ignorance, and it is both tragic and frightening.

Considering all the anti-gay backlash that ESPN received after airing Michael Sam’s kiss with boyfriend, Vito Cammisano – whom Sam described as his “inspiration” in his acceptance speech – the fact that they decided to honour him with this award is a subtle, yet powerful slap in the face of the bigots watching. It is also a wonderful and gentle reminder to the LGBT youth out there that, despite what awful people might think of you, you are no less of a person, and there is nothing wrong with loving and celebrating every aspect of yourself.

Contrary to what many are claiming, honouring Michael Sam with this award is no more an attempt to push “the gay agenda” than honouring an African-American athlete is an instance of affirmative action. The awards, I believe, are given to those who deserve it, and I’d be more than interested to have someone point me to any one of the rich, healthy, heterosexual athletes in attendance at the ESPYs last night who was more deserving of a courage award than Michael Sam was for willingly admitting his sexual orientation in a violently homophobic world.

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