The News: The National Football League’s first openly gay player has drawn a wide range of reactions, from the admiration of President Barack Obama to the disgust of at least one other player.
On Sunday Obama congratulated University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam on his selection by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft on Saturday.
The Dolphins disciplined Jones on Sunday, fining him an undisclosed sum and banning him from team activities until he undergoes sensitivity training. Jones apologized for his remarks in a statement issued by the team.
The Take: Well, that didn’t take long. Obviously, three months of nonstop news that Sam would make sports history wasn’t sufficient notice for homophobes to prepare themselves.
Was the National Basketball Association ready for an HIV-infected Magic Johnson? Was Major League Baseball ready for Jackie Robinson? Necessary change rarely occurs when an institution is ready.
A sampling of comments at the end of a recent story in The Root reveals that some of our readers weren’t ready, or supportive, either.
A reader named Boondocks1935 wrote, “The president congratulating a man for being openly gay makes about as much sense as the Pope making saints out of pedophile priests.”
Tyronewashington wrote, “I just don't see this working out…..they need to give him a separate shower stall.”
And BittyWitty said, “The media is really driving this non story home. The best thing for everyone involved is if MICHAEL SAM doesn't make the team and gets cut. I am sick & tired of hearing about him and his [f-word] [expletive] lifestyle!!!”
The Dolphins’ handling of Jones, no doubt with the enthusiastic support of the NFL, sends a clear message to the players and executives of other teams who have warned that the league isn’t ready for a gay player.
Sam may already have paid a price for his courage. He was a consensus All-American and the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, the most competitive conference in college football. Yet as soon as he disclosed that he’s gay, his projected draft status plummeted. He was the eighth-to-last player drafted, following 248 others.
Last year, celebrated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o faced similar criticisms about his physical limitations, and like Sam performed poorly at the NFL Combine. But nonetheless, Te’o was drafted in the second round. And this after he was “catfished” by an imaginary girlfriend—an embarrassing controversy that should have concerned any team about his intelligence.
No doubt other teams passed on Sam to avoid the burden of changing the hypermasculine, homophobic and all-around politically incorrect culture of their organizations, not to mention the media attention certain to follow.
But the Rams have taken on the challenge, and in so doing are helping the NFL with its image, given the Dolphins’ bullying scandal, which involved racial and homophobic threats (Jones didn’t learn a thing from the mess), and continued pressure to force the Washington team to change its racist name.
I hope Sam has a long career. With each snap of the ball, he would help challenge our notions of what makes a real man.
The News: A growing number of prominent Republicans are breaking from their party to support an increase in the federal minimum wage.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is considering another presidential bid in 2016, told CNN on Sunday that Republicans’ continued opposition to a wage hike would hurt the party’s ability to appeal to working-class voters.
A Congressional Budget Office report estimates that a $10.10 hourly wage, up from the current $7.25, would raise the pay of about 16.5 million workers and lift as many as 900,000 people out of poverty. African Americans have the highest poverty rate of any group, at 27.4 percent.
But Republican lawmakers argue that it would cost jobs and is merely an election-year ploy by the Democrats. They recently blocked a Senate bill sponsored by the Democrats that would lift the hourly rate to $10.10. Santorum said Republican lawmakers “need to be reasonable about it and offer an alternative.”
Two fellow Republican presidential candidates from 2012—former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—also recently called for a wage hike.
The Take: If you’re keeping score in the ping-pong of national politics, award a point to President Obama, whose aggressive calls for a minimum wage hike has forced leading Republicans to at least take a stand on matters of income inequality.
For the longest time, Republicans couldn’t fix their mouths to say “income inequality,” preferring to spin it as that conservative dog-whistle phrase “wealth redistribution.”
Now the shift reveals a “split” within the GOP. While Republicans in Congress remain tone-deaf, Republicans with presidential ambitions understand that the issue and others affecting the working class could present a path to softening the party’s image to a broad electorate.
Polls show widespread approval for a wage hike among voters of all stripes. A recent poll found that even a majority of small-business owners support it, debunking a common Republican argument.
Adding to the GOP chagrin, the largest sampling of respondents identified themselves as Republicans.
Moreover, 82 percent of the employers said they already pay their workers more than $7.25 per hour, which underscores how badly the federal minimum wage lags the cost of living.
Meanwhile, states aren’t waiting for Congress to come around. Some 21 states and the District of Columbia already have higher minimum wages, and Maryland, Minnesota, Delaware, West Virginia and Hawaii recently approved wage increases.
This is yet another example of Republicans standing against the prevailing opinion of voters and getting off scot-free for it between presidential contests. The question is, can independent and moderate voters come to their senses, and liberal voters simply wake up, in time to deliver a reckoning in November?
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., writes The Take and is a contributing editor at The Root. He appears on MSNBC and CNN and contributes to NPR. He is a former NPR correspondent and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Give him your “take” on Twitter.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.