The most watched moment of the most watched NFL Draft in history still has a lot of people trying to figure out what exactly they just saw. When the St. Louis Rams selected Michael Sam in the final round of the Draft, they were very aware of the significance of the moment (Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher reportedly told his staffers, “Let’s make history,” immediately before dialing the defensive lineman from Missouri). Sam answered the phone call with the expected cocktail of tears, smiles, humility and relief –- and one very unexpected kiss.

 

While the smooching of the significant other is a Draft day staple –- and one that makes TV producers gush –- this was something entirely different. Sam’s very public display of affection was as remarkably genuine and natural as one would expect, yet it ruffled the Twitter feathers because it was unlike anything many viewers had ever seen.

 

Public reaction ranged from uproarious support to confusion to discomfort to disgust. Understanding the difference between those latter two emotions, however, provides us with the real teachable moment. It is OK to feel uneasy or even threatened when confronted with something that is unfamiliar. But to suggest that personal discomfort gives one the right to condemn others is pure folly. Social progress is not possible without the willingness to embrace the uncomfortable. Tolerance, in fact, is rooted in that very principle.

 

Thankfully, our tolerance of the on-screen kiss itself has evolved over the decades, allowing us to distance ourselves from the not-so-long-ago absurdity that prevented a black man (Denzel Washington) and white woman (Julia Roberts) from sharing a sizzling moment in a major motion picture (I’m looking at you, “The Pelican Brief”). Conventional wisdom said the American public was not ready to handle that kind of blasphemy in the early 90’s, and, thus, the cycle of intolerance was perpetuated.

 

What has struck me most about the Sam coverage this week is not that he is sharing our TV screens with his boyfriend, but that he is also doing so with Donald Sterling. As Sterling kicks his “I am not a racist” tour into full gear, he is a cautionary tale for the Sam-haters. It is not possible to be more laughably and disgracefully out of touch than Sterling, and his incorrigible actions are associated with many of those same buzzwords that have been uttered in reaction to Sam.

 

As is the case with Sterling, there is a very easily identifiable right side and wrong side of the Sam argument. True acceptance of others does not come with conditions or value judgments. It comes with the understanding that you might not always understand what you’re seeing, but everyone deserves a chance to be seen for who they really are.

 

What is your reaction to the media’s coverage of Michael Sam the past few days? Join the conversation or reach out to me on Twitter @endbadly.