Even if you’re not a football fan, and you can count me in that category, you’ve probably heard the name Michael Sam. Sam, a defensive end from the University of Missouri, was recently drafted into the National Football League by the St. Louis Rams. Standing at six foot two and weighing two hundred fifty-six pounds he was an All American at Missouri where he’s credited with 45 tackles and ten and one-half sacks. By the way, don’t ask me how you can get half a sack. I know nothing about football, but that isn’t the point.
Sam was a seventh round draft pick. When he was chosen by the Rams, he did something anyone overcome with emotion might do; he kissed his partner. And there’s the rub. That kiss was televised on ESPN and it’s incited a firestorm of controversy because Sam is gay. Sam kissed a man and ESPN saw fit to televise it. Some accused ESPN of capitalizing on his sexual orientation. Some were disgusted and offended that the kiss would be televised. Some didn’t care or didn’t mind.
I fall into that category of didn’t mind seeing the kiss. It should be pointed out that the kiss was brief and quite chaste. On hearing the announcement, an excited Sam embraced an equally excited young man and then planted a very brief kiss on his lips. The moment was over as quickly as it started, but the controversy had just begun. Personally, I don’t understand the controversy. This young man was celebrating a major accomplishment in his life with the person he loves. So it happens to be a man. Does that diminish his accomplishment? Not in my eyes.
There are some though, from athletes to newscasters, who disagree. They’ve claimed to be offended and outraged. There have even been a few athletes who have gone on record saying they wouldn’t play with him and insist the NFL isn’t as ready for this as people think they are. A newscaster on a morning show in Texas was so upset by the televised kiss that she walked off in the middle of her own show when her cohost disagreed with her.
The controversy got me thinking about my writing. In all the stories I’ve written, I’ve had a few gay characters, but most have been supporting characters. I’ve only written one story in which the protagonist was gay and trying to navigate coming out to his religious parents. The story was something I was, and still am, proud of, but it wasn’t as popular as some of my others. Was that because it wasn’t as well written or because not all readers were comfortable with the subject matter? It’s tough to say, but I’ve always wondered.
I recently started a four book contemporary romance series called the Time for Love series. It follows the love story of a heterosexual couple in all its ups and downs. The series has been a lot of fun to write and has spawned several supporting characters that I’d like to have the chance to develop. Lately, I’ve been thinking about making one of those characters gay and letting readers follow the story of him embracing his sexual orientation and finding his first love.
The controversy surrounding Sam makes me wonder whether or not my readers would be interested in that kind of story. It makes me wonder, but I doubt it will change my mind. If you read some of my past work, you know I don’t shy from taboo subjects. I’m no stranger to controversy but that doesn’t mean I want to alienate my readers. I have to ask myself if I would even be having this debate with myself if it wasn’t for the Michael Sam firestorm. There’s no way to know for sure, but like Sam, I have to be true to myself, whether readers are ready for it or not. After all, you can’t please all the people all of the time. So, ready or not, it is coming. You’ve been warned!