Chris Graham: The Smile and Smooch Cam and same sex uncomfortableness

kissMy first experience with the Kiss Cam concept came with the opening of the John Paul Jones Arena at UVa. Hard to believe that something that had been around for 20 years – and is so undeniably entertaining – had been something unknown to me until 2006.

Harder to believe is that it never occurred to me until this past Monday night’s UVa. basketball game when what JPJ denizens know as the Smile and Smooch Cam discriminates against lgbt couples.

Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t at least one same sex couple of sorts featured on a past Smile and Smooch Cam. I can’t remember the exact year, but it seems like 2008 or 2009, during a break in a game in December against a nondescript nonconference opponent. The Cam found two of the sort of young ladies that superficial type men find rather appealing, to borrow from “Seinfeld,” and the joke was on. Hubba hubba, wouldn’t it be great to see these young ladies go at it?

And then they did. I’m sure the camera operator who found them and the director were sacked thereafter, and I don’t remember seeing two same sex, er, couplets, featured on the Smile and Smooch Cam since.

Why is that? I mean, I know why. Deadspin wrote about the history of Kiss Cam this week. As Sheila Johnson, the managing partner of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, told the Washington Post for a 2009 story, “We got a lot of kids here.”

Or to be more precise, we got a lot of narrow-minded people here, both behind the camera, in the director’s chair and of course among the paying public. You don’t see interracial couples featured often in Kiss Cam moments on the big screen, either, perhaps anticipating the nonsensical backlash that Cheerios received for featuring an interracial couple in a recent series of TV ads.

In Virginia these issues are, shall we say, hot and heavy in the here and now, with a federal judge this week overturning the same sex marriage ban passed by state voters in 2006. The law, like others in states across the nation, is clearly unconstitutional, just as, a generation ago, laws in Virginia and other Southern states against interracial marriage were clearly unconstitutional, and were eventually overturned. You don’t get to pick and choose who deserves equal protection of the law; that’s the essence of what it means to live in the United States of America, as much as we are still efforting to figure that all out.

But what is the essence of Kiss Cam, Smile and Smooch Cam, whatever you want to call it? Older couples with gray hair trying to decide how much PDA they can give for the cheers of the crowd. Younger couples leaving nothing at the altar, as they say. And the crowd favorite: the couple that doesn’t realize that it’s on the big screen, then does at the last possible moment and plants the big one on each other.

All are straight couples, at least in Virginia. There was a bit of a breakthrough, as Deadspin noted in its article, in 2011 in San Francisco, during a Giants-Chicago Cubs game.

It’s hard to imagine at UVa., where the student section still yells “Not gay!” at a key moment of the school song, right after the words, “We come from Old Virginia, where all is bright and gay,” that our Smile and Smooch Cam will anytime soon feature an actual same sex couple (the NSFW version from a few years ago notwithstanding).

Maybe after the courts finish declaring the same sex marriage ban unconstitutional. And then same sex couples can get official marriage licenses. And then can get married and get to live their lives in peace. Maybe at that point in time we can see our first same sex couple on the Smile and Smooch Cam.

UVa. football might win a national championship before all this happens, of course.

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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