ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith took serious issue Monday with the Miami Dolphins’ decision to punish safety Don Jones for his reaction to Michael Sam’s kiss with his boyfriend. He also advised Sam and his boyfriend to “get a room.”
Sam, who made headlines as an openly gay NFL hopeful, immediately became a cause for gay activists Saturday following an on-camera kiss with boyfriend Vito Cammisano after his selection by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft. The two continued their celebration by smashing cake in each others’ faces.
The clip of the kiss was put into heavy rotation by the sports network and widely circulated online, but the Dolphins’ Jones was one of several viewers who dissented from the general celebration, tweeting “OMG” and “Horrible” in reaction. The Dolphins organization quickly responded by fining Jones an undisclosed amount and banning him from team activities until he completes sensitivity training.
Smith, a popular, unsmiling sports analyst widely known as “Stephen A.,” criticized the punishment as well as the public backlash Jones received. While he repeatedly indicated his support for same-sex marriage and gay rights, Smith called on Sam’s supporters to practice the tolerance they preach.
“It’s a very, very dangerous thing when people see something and they have a problem with what they’re seeing and they express themselves, and ultimately they’re fined,” he said on ESPN2’s First Take on Monday. “You can say they’re wrong, you could be the Miami Dolphins and talk to them, but to fine them and prohibit them from team activities — that’s getting a bit dicey now.”
Smith also suggested the public insistence on cheering for Sam’s special relationship and the excesses of the display may help explain Jones’s reaction. “I would say the same thing I would say to a heterosexual couple: Get a room,” he remarked, cautioning that he had only had the clip described to him by others. He noted that a local store owner had confronted him prior to Monday’s show, complaining that ESPN “constantly” played the clip. Smith suggested that the sports network “kind of instigated” such reactions.
Smith pointed out that many viewers may have had personal, moral, or faith-based issues with the kiss, and he suggested the gay community and its supporters to be patient and respectful of those people’s views, just as they expect their views to be respected. Similarly, as gays look for further inclusion in society, they have to realize “that doesn’t mean everybody is going to like you.”
Smith explained that as consensus evolves and changes, people have to be considerate with those who don’t feel like joining in the celebration of moments like Sam’s kiss:
We’re learning these things as we go along. In the process of learning it, Skip, at the same time when somebody is willing to stand up and say, “Excuse me, I was watching the NFL draft — I didn’t expect to see that, it just shocked me. Oh, and by the way, it was shown over and over and over again, and I wasn’t ready for that,” is that wrong? Is that a crime? Is that something that warrants a fine, and being ostracized from team activities until training camp?
I’m saying, Wait a minute; the gay community talks about and alludes to tolerance and an elevated level of understanding. There is no question as a nation we have made a concerted effort to aim in that direction. . . If somebody else ain’t ready for that, and all they’re say is, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect to see that while I’m watching the NFL draft.’ Really, that’s a problem? That’s my point.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.