Jack Burkman doesn't believe Michael Sam should be allowed to play in the NFL. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
If Missouri defensive end Michael Sam thought it would be all sunshine and rainbows when he announced that he was the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft ... well, he wouldn't have announced it at all. Sam is far too smart to believe that he wouldn't encounter resistance on and off the field. Trailblazers always do.
One of the more ridiculous efforts against Sam is one by powerful lobbyist Jack Burkman, who said in a Monday statement that he is preparing legislation that would ban all gay players from the NFL.
"We are losing our decency as a nation,” Burkman's statement said. "Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man. That’s a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?”
What has this nation come to, indeed. When open discrimination in clear violation of labor laws and the league's collective bargaining agreement is couched in the most elementary type of fear-mongering, we have indeed reverted back to the days when Joseph McCarthy spoke for every blind, paranoid half-wit in America. Which Michael Sam himself intimated in a recent tweet.
“If the NFL has no morals and no values, then Congress must find values for it,” Burkman concluded in a statement.
Burkman runs one of the most successful and influential lobbying firms in Washington. Burkman Associates signed 70 new clients in 2013, the most of any such firm, in a recent review conducted by TheHill.com. Burkman has also served on counsel to the law firm Holland & Knight, which quickly distanced itself from him on the heels of his latest effort.
In a statement, the firm said that it "is proud of its support of the LGBT community and we condemn Jack Burkman's current efforts. Mr. Burkman's employment with Holland & Knight ended almost 12 years ago. He was a lawyer in our Washington office from October 1998 to May 2002."
Someone else who doesn't think much of Burkman's efforts is his brother, Jim, an anesthesiologist who lives in Seattle.
“I think the idea that he is pushing legislation that is just hurtful and ridiculous is just plain stupid,” Jim Burkman told the Huffington Post on Monday. “He is not a legislator and he can’t really push legislation. I don’t think there are any co-sponsors for a bill. It is just an attention grab and a media grab to pander to those folks who pay him to lobby on their behalf.
“He is my brother and I love him, and we don’t see eye-to-eye on any political issues, certainly gay rights. But I told him years ago he should back off on gay issues, and if he ever crosses the line I would be happy to speak up as his gay brother. Today I felt he crossed the line.”
In an interview with HuffPo, Jack Burkman admitted that conservatives like himself usually don't want the government intervening in their personal lives. But when those horrible demons are under one's bed, it's time for an exception to the rule, or something like that.
"There are times when that is trumped for reason of great urgency or necessity," Burkman concluded. "And I think this is it, because I see the society sliding in the wrong direction ... I felt that if the NFL doesn't have any morals, and people like [commissioner] Roger Goodell, who are just go-along-get-along guys, just want to appease advertisers, appease corporate America and all that stuff," he said, "I figured, well, it is time for conservatives in Congress to step in and define morality for them."
Burkman saw no parallel between this initiative and the one that kept black players out of Major League Baseball for decades. Because that would be, you know, bigotry.
"That is a completely different thing, a different issue. Race, skin color, have nothing to do with it," he said. "This is not about bigotry. It is about common decency and civility. Society is moving to a point where we are going to have unisex bathrooms and the next generation thinks that is OK."
Burkman did say that he'd feel a bit better about gay people playing in the NFL if they used separate bathrooms in the locker room. Perhaps they could use separate water fountains, too. And different lunch counters. And different hotels and movie theaters. Because, you see, this is not at all about bigotry. Really. Not in the least.
Burkman ended his interview with the time-tested "I have gay friends" gambit, insisting that his gay friends, whoever they may be, would respect what he is doing.
"I would hope that they would respect that a person is doing what he thinks is good public policy and doing what he thinks is right for the country."
Friends, maybe. Brothers, not so much.