As a 260-pound All-American former University of Missouri defensive end, and the Associated Press Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam seems like an ideal pick for the upcoming NFL draft in May. However, Sam faces one major problem — he just came out as gay.
In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Sunday, Sam admitted he is gay, not to the surprise of many of his teammates who said they already knew. If Sam is picked in the upcoming NFL draft, he would be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Unfortunately, “if” is the operative word in that sentence.
In light of the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is interesting how many have put Russia in the spotlight for Putin’s lack of gay tolerance, yet have failed to talk about the existing bigotry within the NFL in America. New York Giants cornerback Charles James reminded us of this intolerance when he tweeted in response to Sam coming out, “I just want to come out and let everyone know that I am … straight as hell.” Well, good for you, Charles. Do you want a sticker?
There is no question that Sam will get drafted in May. He was his team’s Most Valuable Player after recording 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles in 2013. His team finished 12-2, and he was an integral part of that feat.
Despite the fact he is openly gay, Sam is far too valuable of a player for all 32 of the teams in the NFL to be blinded by his “gayness” and refuse to draft him. Yet it is still disappointing that his NFL prospects will narrow simply because he came out. Clearly, the NFL is not ready for such an open-door policy.
Several NFL executives and coaches anonymously spoke to Sports Illustrated on Monday about Sam’s decision to come out. Considering the progress America has made in terms of gay rights, especially within the last week with the federal government extending legal benefits to same-sex married couples, their comments were very disheartening.
One NFL personnel assistant in particular told Sports Illustrated, “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet … In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man’s game.”
The sheer fact that these NFL personnel refused to be identified in this interview shows how insensitive the NFL knows it is being. The personnel assistant added, “To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Now, shame on you, Mr. Sam, how dare you want to enter the NFL knowing your gay would cause an adverse chemical reaction amongst your future teammates?
Although openly gay players are rare to find in male sports across the board, such as the NHL, MLB and NBA, they do exist (gasp!). NBA player Jason Collins admitted he was gay last year — though he has yet to sign with a team since his announcement.
Considering the stigma against gay people that still exists within male sports, it is a bold move for any prominent figure to come out to the public. However, within their respective sports, Collins is not as big of a star within the NBA as Sam is within football. Since Sam is such a laudable football player, the reaction to his open sexuality will cause more conversation than Collins’ announcement.
The way the NFL responds to Sam during the draft in May will give us tangible evidence of how straight the NFL is in its morals concerning gays. Sam’s decision to come out to the public before the draft was a strategic and calculated move. Now he can ensure he is drafted to a team who genuinely wants their players for their skills and sportsmanship, rather than just for superficial reasons.
It is a safe assumption that many teams that would be lucky to have Sam, and vice-versa, will take a pass on him just because he is openly gay. But, given his record and talent, those teams would be missing out on one heck of a player.
If Sam isn’t picked within one of the first few rounds, and dropped on the draft board like NFL coaches and executives predicted he would be, the NFL will be screaming how anti-gay they are.