Michael Sam Brings Pride to the NFL

Claire Marvin, Columns and Reviews Editor

“I’m Michael Sam, I’m a football player, and I’m gay.” This statement made by 24-year-old All-American University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam in an interview with The New York Times on Feb. 9, has sent shockwaves throughout the football community. While coming out this day in age might not seem monumental, Sam’s small step out of the proverbial closet is more like a “giant leap for mankind” because if drafted, he will be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Although it is not uncommon for athletes to come out after retirement, Sam’s decision to reveal his sexual orientation right before the start of his professional career is unprecedented in the “man’s man” sport of American football, and it’s about time.
For too long men and women in the athletic community have held back revealing their true selves for fear of not making a team, losing endorsements, and alienation solely based on their sexual orientation. As the spotlight on gay rights brightens, more and more Americans have accepted that being gay is not a choice and that nobody should be afraid to be themselves. After all, Sam only came out in order to “tell his truth” in his own words.
Although the NFL released the encouraging statement, “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 is still much speculation as to how players and coaches will react to the league’s first openly gay player.
“I think society is ready for it and America’s ready for it, but I don’t think the NFL is,” Terrell Thomas, the New York Giants cornerback, said in an interview with ESPN regarding the league’s readiness to accept an openly gay player. Thomas went on to say, “as a player, all you want to know is if he can play. That’s on the field. But in the locker room, it’s different.”
If what Thomas said is true, and America is ready to accept an openly gay professional football player, then a few over-sized and overpaid grumbling homophobic jocks should be able to put their egos aside and change in the locker room alongside a gay teammate without throwing a fit. Because honestly, worrying about being “checked-out” by a teammate should be the least of anyone’s worries when there is football game to win. These athletes need to do their jobs and play the game, not whine about the extremely slim possibility of a teammate taking a romantic interest in them.
After all of the media attention that Sam’s decision to come out has received, it is becoming more apparent that the NFL would be largely viewed as discriminatory if the new poster-boy for gay rights is not drafted. However, this should not be an issue as Sam has proved himself to be a talented football player and consequently will be a mid-round pick in the drafting process. Sam is so focused on preparing for the draft in fact that he declined an invitation to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
While Sam playing in the NFL would obviously be a huge score for social activists, it would truly be a game-changing touchdown for America.