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Smart, Sam Controversies Show America's Struggle with Diversity

by Todd A. Smith

Tolerance is Still Not Very Tolerant

            The news in the sports world this week has been how the NFL is facing a litmus test regarding tolerance.  All-American linebacker Michael Sam is poised to become the first openly gay NFL player, and many are questioning how he will be treated in the locker room.

            People in the United States have touted how far we have come as a country when it comes to respecting the differences of others, and team sports are the last bastion of bigotry that remains in a civilized society.

            While Sam’s sexuality should in no way inhibit or prohibit his performance on the football field and should not stop him from realizing his NFL dream, those who believe that bigotry and intolerance will subside for all when it subsides for the LGBT community are sadly mistaken.

            Almost forgotten after Sam’s announcement in an ESPN interview was the incident in Lubbock, Texas involving Oklahoma State’s star point guard Marcus Smart. 

            After falling into the stands while attempting to block a shot, Smart alleged that a Texas Tech fan called him the N-word, and Smart shoved the fan in retaliation.  The fan said he only referred to Smart as a “piece of crap.”

            While Smart was totally in the wrong for physically confronting the fan, the incident brings up a larger point.  Although this country touts being tolerant, every group in this country still faces intolerance from African Americans to Christians and Muslims to gays.

            And in sports, that intolerance will many times come from outside of the locker room and directly from the fans.

            The real question is how do you handle intolerance when you are confronted with it?

            While many people are erroneously comparing Sam to Jackie Robinson (because African Americans were simply barred from playing professional sports and gays were not), Smart, Sam and other minority athletes can learn something from his struggle with racial bias and how he overcame it.

            While many give credit to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for advocating nonviolence during the Civil Rights Movement, Robinson was one of the first to effectively use nonviolence and class to combat bigotry.

            Smart, and no other athlete, can ever let the hate from others get them off their course in life.  Since the incident with the Texas Tech fan, I have heard people say that Smart was only responding like a man to someone who disrespected him, and African American men think too much about their career and money.

            However, a real man will do whatever it takes to prove that he is indeed a man to the people that matter the most, and that is his family and loved-ones.

            Being a man sometimes means turning the other cheek because that is what’s required to keep a job and keep food in your children’s mouths.  Being a man means also being a positive role model to children looking up to you, and those children need to know you respond to ignorance with intelligence, and not violence.

            Nevertheless, what has been lost in the whole Smart and Sam sagas is the fact that African Americans are still dealing with intolerance in sports, so unfortunately other minority groups like the LGBT community will probably continue to encounter it in sports as well, from every angle.

            Furthermore, many Christian athletes will unfortunately experience intolerance for their religious views on homosexuality.  Many of them will also be faced with the same litmus test that Smart temporarily failed on Feb. 8.

            When that happens, Christian athletes should respond with the same love for their enemies that Smart and Sam need to display when they face it.  As Christians, we are taught to love the sinner and hate the sin, not the other way around. 

            However, America should not fall into the false belief that ending intolerance towards one community, means intolerance is gone for good.  Smart can attest to that.

            When intolerance for one group decreases, it seems to increase for others.

            America has to remain respectful to all, despite our differences.  If she does not, than she is regressing, not progressing despite what some may think.

This article was published on Friday 14 February, 2014.
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