Michael Sam, Jackie Robinson, and the politics of respectability

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This article asks the following question: When we compare the contemporary political challenges associated with sexual identity to the civil rights history embodied in Jackie Robinson, what shape do the politics of sexuality take? This article argues that through Jackie Robinson, Michael Sam mobilizes the political rhetoric of respectability, the notion that inclusion is the meaning of social struggle and that it is achieved in enacting the rhetorical and behavioral norms modeled in straight White men. Respectability works to domesticate the imagery associated with gay sexuality, to figure the citizen as a model of comportment which relies for its appeal on the civil rights movement as queer sexuality’s map through politics. Moreover, Sam’s circulation through public discourse is marked by a carefully managed stage presence, a phenomenon which, I believe, disavows critiques of neoliberal capitalism by attaching Sam’s sexuality to meanings that might generate economic value. Although the allusion to Robinson presupposes a discursive frame in which Sam’s race and sexuality are merely incidental to each other, taking it seriously is worthwhile not only by examining the rhetorical work the comparison performs but also by tugging at the hidden stitches that hold it together.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-351
Number of pages21
JournalCommunication and Sport
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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