Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark wondered what teammates would be able to say to Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who publicly announced he is gay.
Well, Ryan, how about, “Hey, dude, how are you doing?’’
Or, “Hey, rook, what’s up?’’
Or, “Hey, buddy, join me at the lunch table.’’
Clark is black. He wouldn’t like the N-word used around him. Sam is gay. He wouldn’t like the F-word used around him. There you go. Easy peasy.
That would be a good baseline for what to say to Sam. Making progress already.
“You want to know how you can behave around this person,’’ Clark said on ESPN. “Anyone who has been in a football locker room knows that there’s a lot of jokes, a lot of ribbing. We’ll talk about anything. If a guy is fat. If a guy is ugly. If a guy’s significant other is not attractive. There are things you josh each other about and you talk with each other about. In what ways can you talk to him? In what ways can you involve him in your conversations? What are the things you can do and say around him that won’t make him feel uncomfortable? That won’t make him feel that he’s being ostracized? Or that won’t make him feel like he’s being harassed or quote-unquote bullied?’’
Joshing? Did Clark really use the word “joshing’’? Such a soft word. So cute. So unlike using the N-word or F-word or any other word that would cause a company’s human resources department to get legal on the horn.
Fat? That still works in a locker room. Ugly? That, too. Unattractive significant other? Sure, even with Sam, and I’m guessing Sam would understand that verbal hazing is equal opportunity.
But come on, you know when you’re trying to hurt someone. Your tone, inflection, decibel level and choice of words define the difference between venom and “joshing.’’
Your target knows it, too, as would others nearby in the locker room.
“Joshing’’ is a shield. It’s a code word and it’s disingenuous. Clark’s questions reflect players’ wondering how close they can come to using insulting terms.
Here’s an idea: If you think you’re close, then don’t say it. That would be a another good guideline. In the real world, it’s called respect.
Clark gets points for honesty. I don’t know him. Maybe’s he’s regualrly unfiltered. In any case, his questions reflect a topic players around the league obviously talked about in the first 24 hours of Sam’s stunning and brave declaration.
The thing with football players is how quickly they defend their right to use despicable language in their locker room. I don’t see how that’s healthy or helps a team. Sounds more like a crutch for troglodytes.
I get the idea of a sanctuary, but I don’t get the idea that it confers a constitutional right or becomes some kind of super power borne of the most vicious, hurtful words a human can cobble together.
Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall coaches or players attributing clutch plays and victories to the freedom to make anti-gay slurs.
“Everyone’s talking about how this could disrupt the locker room,’’ NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth told ESPN. “Some NFL locker rooms need disrupting, to be frank.’’
You could accuse me of being naïve. Fine. I’ll accuse you of being a caveman. Society is evolving. Football is evolving and could use a better time in the 40 on that count.
Sam is a human being. Talk to him like one.