WASHINGTON – Michael Sam, an outstanding college football player, has come out of the closet. Hes expected to be picked in the National Football League draft. Hed be the NFLs first openly gay player.
Sam didnt grow up in an environment where homosexuality was accepted or tolerated. In his ESPN interview, he recalled seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, knowing that my older sister died when she was a baby. A second brother went missing and was later pronounced dead. Two other brothers have been in and out of jail since eighth grade, currently both in jail. Sam reflected:
I could be in jail. I could be dead. But I made a choice. I made a choice at a young age that I knew that I didnt want to follow that path of my brothers. I knew that I wanted to have some success so my family could be proud of me.
The key words are I made a choice. Against the grain of everything that had happened in his family, Sam chose a different course. You can question lots of things about Sam.What you cant question is his will.
And that should make you think hard, if you havent already, about the role of willpower in sexual orientation. Some people think homosexuality is a choice. Many others accept that its an inclination but insist you can overcome it. Even among liberals, theres occasional talk that being gay is a personal decision.
There are some people, at the margins of bisexuality, for whom thats true. But gay men – those who know theyre gay – dont choose to be gay and cant make themselves straight. If the science and the spectacular failure of ex-gay ministries dont convince you, look at Michael Sam. Hes about to take the brunt of being the NFLs first openly gay player – an ordeal any sensible person would avoid if he could. To get here, Sam had to find the moral strength to break a family history of crime and death. What he couldnt break was his sexual orientation. It wasnt his choice.