Michael Sam just finished his career as Missouri’s successful defensive end, with All-American honors and as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Sam is also a National Football League draft prospect. But that’s not it.
He also just publicly revealed to the world that he is gay. In a sport filled with alpha males, high testosterone levels, and violence that fans hold season tickets to cheer on – it’s hard for people to digest news like this. And the world’s reaction revealed just that.
People immediately tweeted things such as:
“So, message to Michael Sam and those like him: NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT A MAN WHO LIKES TO SUCK COCK. GET BACK IN THE FUCKING CLOSET.”
As well as kind words that Michelle Obama tweeted.
“You’re an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field. –mo.”
In fact, if you were to Google “Is the NFL ready for openly gay player,” your screen would look like it’s in a conflicting argument with itself. Every other headline from publications big and small say yes and no – in that exact alternating pattern. Former and current NFL players are backing up both sides of this heated debate with reasons that feed both the little angel and devil on the league’s shoulders.
The reality is that the NFL is as ready as it will ever be, because if not now, when?
2013 was a year that the LGBT community should be proud of. Many battles were won, starting with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense Against Marriage Act in March, which paved the way for the legalization or civil-unions of same-sex marriage in over 10 states, and the Boy Scouts’ allowance of openly-gay youths into their ranks.
Hell, even the Pope said, “Who am I to judge?” and conveyed that people with same-sex orientation should be integrated into society.
Times are, indeed, a-changing.
It wasn’t a matter of if this was going to happen, but when. And the NFL knew it would have to face the inevitable. Now, it’s time to welcome that change.
The league released a statement on Twitter welcoming Sam. “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
There are going to be people who are against athletes like Sam. They will look past his athletic abilities and credentials and focus only on his sexuality, which has little to do with the amount of sacks or tackles for loss he’ll get.
Fans will harass him, and Sam may even have to protect himself from his own teammates. We can only hope that his NFL colleagues are as supportive as his collegiate ones were, who actually kept Sam’s sexual orientation a secret for the whole semester.
A survey conducted by ESPN.com’s NFL Nation and ESPN The Magazine asked players four true-false questions about their thoughts on having a gay teammate. Out of the 51 anonymous contributions, 44 said that their teammates sexual orientation didn’t matter to them, and 39 said that they would be comfortable with showering next to them.
Breaking barriers is never easy, and doesn’t happen quickly. But it happens, and anyone is as ready as they will ever be.
CBS sports writer, Jason La Canfora, put it perfectly into perspective.
“And if anything, the sport of football in and of itself requires a unique level of personal interplay, communication, bridge-building and teamwork across racial, social, religious and economic lines to begin with, as well as self-sacrifice, that is rarely seen in any profession. That, to me, bodes well for the outcome of this worldwide sporting and sociological case study that Michael Sam’s career will end up being.”
I guess we’ll just have to find out in May, when the NFL draft starts.