Earning Tiger Stripes

You do not earn your stripes by eating sugary cereal, winning bowl games or wearing black and gold. You earn your stripes by taking a stand. By doing what is right.

Michael Sam came out a week ago today. Even if you don’t go to MU, you have probably seen the news, as it is coming from outlets like Human Rights Campaign, the New York Times, ESPNOutSports and Deadspin. Even Jon Stewart had a thing or two to say about sexuality in the NFL.

Atta boy, Mikey.

And the reactions have been amazing. My entire Twitter feed was filled with #StandBySam and #OneMizzou tweets. Every post I’ve seen has been ecstatic.  A t-shirt shop downtown made dozens of shirts emblazoned with a new motto: “We Are All ComoSexuals.” There is an immense amount of love and support coming from every direction toward this charismatic, talented campus leader.

Westboro Baptist Church, that awful bastardization of corrupted worship, protested Saturday before the Mizzou basketball game. I was a link in the human wall that lined the road between WBC and campus. My toes froze, my nose froze and I got to sing the alma mater with people I had never seen before, all of ours faces smiling: breathless and happy. As WBC packed their signs back into their cars, a student started a rousing rendition of “We Are the Champions.” It was a magical experience.

It’s all great and fantastic, and I am naïvely hopeful about the future of LGBTQ culture in professional sports (especially the NFL).

And, still, I think of Sasha Menu Courey.

Menu Courey, if you missed the ESPN story last month, was a swimmer at MU before she took her own life in 2011. There is a huge controversy over her alleged rape by MU football players and the university’s response to her reports. The Columbia Missourian has kept up with the story as developments come out, and it has been on our minds and discussions, in case you wanted to learn more.

Practically back-to-back, we have two very opposite public images of MU. A woman failed by authority figures and a man lifted up by his peers. I know that these are very different stories, and therefore lend themselves to very different public reactions. Menu Courey’s story is one of shame, violence and rape culture. Sam’s is one of bravery, equality and LGBTQ culture.

I think what I’m most afraid of, honestly, is either of the stories being invalidated by the other. Sam coming out is not a ploy for the world to forget about Menu Courey. Menu Courey’s tragedy should not be a reason to not celebrate Sam’s coming out. Both story worthy of its own attention, but there is definitely a conversation to be had: How do we balance an ultimate high and an ultimate low from the same university department?

We balance it with education and awareness. Rape and sexual assault are heinously underreported at MU. Statistically, it’s likely that 5,000 sexual assaults happened on campus last year. Only 102 were reported to campus police and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, but of those 102, only two reports were filed with the Office of Student Conduct. Two out of 5,000, in case you were wondering, is .04 percent. Are you horrified? Because I’m horrified.

I love and believe in the One Mizzou concept as much as the next social-justice-minded undergrad, but if students are still calling each other “faggot,” does it matter that Michael Sam is the first out Division I athlete? If people are making false rape accusations or, even worse, not reporting rapes, does it matter that Menu Courey’s story matter?

Giving resources to victims and potential victims is incredibly crucial, as is supporting victims when they decide to tell their stories of violence and survival.

Arguably more important is prevention. Not preventing victims, but preventing those who create victims. This is my desperate cry: We must not stand for exclusivity. When someone uses the word “retarded,” “slut” or “faggot,” speak up — then and there. Do not indulge those who make rape jokes. Do not let language use its power for anything less than good. Educate yourself about how social justice influences your daily life, then pass the torch of knowledge onto friends, classmates and strangers.

This is not a job for resource center staffs alone. This requires the entire student body. Your presence is mandatory. Attendance will be taken.

I can promise you, the discomfort of calling someone out is trivial compared to the shame a victim feels with every slur. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I hope that campus gets that much more inclusive because of Sam’s coming out.

I hope that MU faculty and students alike take sexual assault allegations much more seriously because of Menu Courey.

I hope that powerful stories can be guiding lights toward change, not repeated history.


5 thoughts on “Earning Tiger Stripes

  1. “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better”
    ― Harvey Milk

  2. This was very well thought out. I agree that both stories deserve their attention. All I could think while I read this, though, is the comment I heard that professional sports won’t want the controversy of taking out an LGBT athlete. This may be the perfect situation to compare that controversy to that of rape allegations and various other problems college athletes get involved in. Is it really less controversial to take on an alleged rapist instead of an out LGBT athlete?

    1. I would hope it would be more controversial to draft an alleged rapist, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Have you seen John Stewart’s bit on the whole coming out before the draft issue? He brings up a similar point.

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