I've been trying to figure out this week just how much pressure Michael Sam and his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, must be feeling now, having trampled the prejudices of so many people into the dust on so many fronts with that Saturday kiss, broadcast round the world after Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. They're brave young men.
To be fair, and despite the media hoopla, the majority seems to have reacted positively --- or with indifference, or at least with good manners.
But wow. I'm descended from a long, long line of white, north-European protestants --- as many of us are in this lily-white heartland fringe of the Bible belt. And those guys incorporate, merely by being and then falling in love and demonstrating it, so many traits that our kind has been cranky about as the centuries rolled by. So I made a short list.
1. Michael Sam is black. There's a big one. Racism is deeply embedded in America's soul --- especially its protestant soul --- and we're a long way from getting over it.
2. Both Michael and Vito are gay. That's another big one. Much of the hatefulness directed in earlier days in scattershot fashion against many subcategories of people has been concentrated lately into what we call homophobia.
3. The guys are involved in an inter-racial relationship. Why such things used to be illegal in some states, at least if the parties were of differing genders.
4. With a name like Vito, you just know the kid's Italian. Discounting Native Americans, dispatched with little thought by our white ancestors, the big three categories for protestants to hate back in the day were blacks, Irish (Catholics) and Italian (Catholics) --- along with anyone else from southern or eastern Europe who spoke one of those foreign languages and attended Mass.
5. Our forbears just kind of assumed that anyone with an Italian name like Cammisano was affiliated in some way with the mob, although only a tiny percentage of Italian-Americans were. As it turns out Vito's grandfather --- the late Kansas City mob boss William "Willie the Rat" Cammisano --- actually was.
Michael Sam I'd guess has known since he came out a few months ago that every detail of his life now was fair game. And Vito probably suspected that the same would apply to him as he stood there in front of the ESPN cameras by Michael's side on Saturday.
And then they kissed --- a perfectly natural thing to do. And a very brave one, too.