Michael Sam and Conchita Wurst push new boundaries

Rebecca Thorning-Wine looks at the major events of the past weekend in terms of quality and tolerance across the globe.

THIS PAST SUNDAY, Michael Sam became the first openly gay American Football player drafted into the NFL. ESPN cameras filmed as he received the call that the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the 7th round, 249th overall.  Andrew Sullivan described the footage as “Football, masculinity, race, and love collide together — in a few, too-human moments that defy any words. It’s a new world.” A very hopeful and uplifting sentiment about the possibilities this new atmosphere could provide American athletes.

In other — excuse the pun — game-changing news, Conchita Wurst the Austrian drag-act won Eurovision on the same day as the NFL draft. As the ‘bearded lady’ accepted her award she said, “this night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are, we are unity and we are unstoppable.” The winner is declared by a culmination of audience and jury votes, and was perceived as a pan-European acceptance of a different type of sexuality.

Yet it seems that both of these trail blazers may have gotten to the end of their path by more cynical reasons than the world is becoming a less prejudice and accepting place. Some critics have said that Michael Sam was either picked because it would have been a public relations nightmare for the NFL if he wasn’t drafted, or that he was not drafted earlier because of his sexual orientation.

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Wurst’s victory had also come at the hands of the jury, and not at the audience, which leaves many fans begging, ‘who really won?’. But regardless of these hypotheticals, these two people are adding visibility to gay athletes, or those with a more fluid sexuality that will hopefully open up the floodgates for others to feel more likely to be accepted for who they are.

Words: Rebecca Thorning-Wine

Image: Christian Leitner

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