Monday, May 19, 2014

What is Progress?

"You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress..."

What is progress?  Progress is a good thing, right?  I mean, Webster's says that progress is "the process of improving or developing something over a period of time.  Sounds positive.  It reminds me of an old joke, "if 'con' is the opposite of 'pro', then what is the opposite of progress?'  HA!  Can't beat the classics.

While I know it's supposed to be positive thing, I can't help but think that the word "progress" really means "here, take these scraps and shut the f*** up already!"  Take race relations for example, sure, slavery is over, Jim Crow is dead, they even let me sit in the front of the bus -- just because I want to!   we don't need affirmative action anymore, oh, and of course, we have a black president.  Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling, Phil Robertson and others, those are outliers!  We live in a perfect Utopian society today.

We've CLEARLY made progress in the racial arena; can we say the same for those in the same sex arena? I mean, same sex marriage is legal in 17 states.  That's progress, right?  It's better than NOT being legal.  Don't get it twisted, there's still much to overcome, but, generally speaking, you can see change.  You can see the progress.

Yes -- Yes, this is progress.  It's progress because the change in status is authentic, not superficial.  It
signifies a legitimate change in attitude and perceptions.  Not like -- oh, I don't know -- the NFL, for example.  If you keep up with the NFL, or just current events in general, then you've heard about Michael Sam.  Even if you haven't heard the name, you know the story.  Sam was the star line backer for the University of Missouri's football team, the Tigers.  The Tigers play in the Southeastern Conference, the "SEC."  On May 8, Sam was the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft.  You will hear many folks proclaim that the very fact he was drafted at all as progress.

Just to level set, the SEC is widely considered the best conference in all of college football.  You may hear arguments from loyalists in the BIG10, BIG12, or even from the PAC12 conferences.  But really, it's hard to argue against a conference that's won 9 of the 16 championships since BCS' inception.  Why is the SEC the best conference?  In large part, the answer to the question is, money.  But, it is also known for it's speed and defense.  One of the biggest reasons a team from the SEC wins the national championship is because they have a smothering defense the like unseen in other conferences.  It's usually hard for the opposing team to prepare for a team as fast and a defense as opposing as an SEC team.

That said, it's easy to understand why the best defensive player from arguably the best conferences in football is a highly valued prospect by the NFL.  The SEC awards it's best defensive player with their Defensive Player of the Year award.  How does this relate to Michael Sam?  Easy.  Sam was awarded the award in 2013.  Sam was considered the best defensive player in the best conference -- and was drafted in the 7th round of the NFL draft.  Yet, we call it progress.  Is it?

I ask because the 7th round isn't usually where a player of this caliber goes.  No, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year (DoY) and the NFL Draft's First Round are usually synonymous.  And they're certainly not home during the draft.  No, they're invited to attend in person.

Since the inception of the SEC's DoY, three recipients of the award have been drafted outside of the first round.  The very first recipient, Chad Lavalais, went in the 5th round.  Demeco Ryans went in the 2nd round in the 2005 draft.  The last, Michael Sam.  The numbers don't lie: 11 drafts, 8 first rounders, 1 second rounder, 2 others.

I can't help but wonder if we confuse progress with pacification.  Of course, I may be more of a cynic than most.  I'm certain someone would consider tossing a cracker to a starving family, or giving an ice cube to some stranded in the desert as "progress."  But forgive me if I'm not so accepting.  While I'm happy for Sam and wish NOTHING but success and happiness for him, his individual accomplishment far out paces any accomplishment -- our illusion of -- made by the LGBT community.  

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While nearly every other individual in the exclusive SEC fraternity went round 1, Sam went number 249 out of 256.  Said another way, Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was drafted seven spots ahead of Mr. Irrelevant, the last person drafted.  This is HARDLY the place for a DoY winner.  So why?  What was SO different that caused Sam to drop from a first day pick, to damn near the very LAST person picked.  Was it is metrics or skills?  Are we to believe that his skills are so underdeveloped that he was worthy of the award, but not a higher draft pick?  Really?  I'm not buying it.  No.  Let's be honest: but for the fact that discrimination towards the gay and lesbian community isn't currently en-vogue, Sam would've never seen an NFL football team -- regardless of his talent.

The NFL is a business, and like any other business it does what it can to improve its bottom line.  Drafting Sam had shit to do with progressing human relations; it had EVERYTHING to do with economics -- capitalism.  The backlash for not drafting Sam would've been an unwanted black eye on the NFL and possible slowed the money train.  No, it's easier to give a cracker to the starving and call it progress than to walk by without saying anything, then have to hear about it after.

At the end of the day, being gay some how -- magically -- eroded a man's skill taking him from the best defensive player to almost being "irrelevant." And yet, we've been told that his near-irrelevancy is progress because, hey, at least he wasn't tried and executed for sodomy like they used to do, right?

They say the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he never existed.  Well, if that is true, I'm beginning to think that his tricks are done with a wand called "progress."  What better way to not give up anything than to convince someone they got a little something.  Damn near genius.  It's 2014 and we're STILL fighting to have each individual to be treated fairly.  Yep, that's progress for you.

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