Learning from Michael Sam

Jonathan Vilma is an NFL player who is not afraid of colliding with great, big, strong guys in fiberglass armor on the field. He is not afraid to sell his post-career lucidity for money.  He is courage on the hoof, is Jonathan Vilma, and yet he is afraid of someone looking at him with sexual interest that he does not requite.  Good for Jonathan! That diffidence, and his heartbreaking plea for our sympathy should he ever to face that challenge, expresses the chivalrous culture of his sport.  It is why every woman knows she is never at risk of sexual assault — or even a moment’s embarrassment — if a football player should look at her with sexual interest that she does not requite. Every one of these paragons understands how she feels, respects that feeling in word and deed, and in fact they are known to avoid bars and parties with women, lest they put one in that impossible “how am I supposed to respond?” state of anxiety that terrifies Jonathan.  Good for Jonathan, and shame on Michael Sam for threatening him with a situation Jon, and his peers, would never inflict on anyone.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

9 thoughts on “Learning from Michael Sam”

  1. Indeed. Some amount of male nervousness about male homosexuality is discomfort at being looked at as a sex object, by someone with whom one does not want to have sex… So the parallel with women's responses is entirely suitable. Not to mention that the likelihood of a professional football player being sexually assaulted by a teammate is very small, given the strength of all the participants – most unlike the relationship between the straight player and women.

  2. Last I checked, and not in any shower,, Vilma was a pretty good-looking guy. He has (or should have, unless he is a dolt or his manager is a crook) have plenty of money. I can't imagine that he hasn't been looked upon with sexual interest by women to whom he wouldn't give the time of day. So he should be used to it. Man up, Vilma.

  3. Yes, people look at others with sexual interest all the time. And yet some people are reluctant to appear naked in front of people who are reasonably likely to look at them this way! That's just craziness.

    1. Re appearing naked in front of people with a sexual interest: first, is it better if one knows or one does not know that there is such an interest? There are surely already gay players in the NFL, just not out. So it happens now. Second, one is not appearing naked as a deliberate act of provocation, or in artificial circumstances, so the context is very different from a gratuitous act of exposure. Third, the average NFL player (or other locker-room jock) is able to take care of himself (or herself, for women athletes), so they are not at greater risk for appearing naked. Fourth, the person who may look with sexual interest is still not allowed to do anything about it without consent, and the nakedness is not in itself consent, any more than young women who dress 'provocatively' are deemed in law to consent (and the man-in-the-street reaction that 'she had it coming' is no longer either respectable or effective in law – your jury may vary….)

      I would have thought that any gay athlete would be exceedingly careful about level of interest and reality of consent before making any approach at all to a teammate, especially while the presence of gay players is not taken for granted. I expect that Mr Sam, if he is drafted, will keep his eyes to himself in the shower.

  4. Cheer up, O'Hare. Saying something really stupid in public is often the first step towards getting schooled. It starts a very healthy conversation.

    Btw: re the comment system — is says you can comment as a Guest, but really, you can't. ???

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