Michael Sam has made it easier for current gay players in the NFL. Will they do the same for him?
By now you’ve probably heard that Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has publicly announced that he’s gay. A projected third-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, this decision will (unless all 32 teams simply decide that they’re going to be officially homophobic and to hell with whoever doesn’t like it) make him the league’s first active out player.
NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth predicts that players will accept him “with open arms.” Makes sense – his teammates at Mizzou did.
But no amount of progressive kumbayah is going to make this easy on Sam. The league and its teams and coaches and representatives are all going to say the right things. They know there’s going to be a heavy price to pay for saying the wrong things. But there are going to be some folks on whatever team he goes to who aren’t as enlightened as we might hope. I expect that Sam’s presence will serve as a powerful humanizing force, and a year or two from now the average NFL locker room will be a lot more tolerant than it is today.
Still, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball on April 15, 1947. On April 16, there were still a lot of players around the league who hated blacks.
No amount of people saying the right thing is going to make it easy for Sam, but there is one thing that would help smooth his path dramatically.
My most conservative guess is that there are over 50 gay players in the NFL. My best guess if I were betting on it is closer to twice that number. Make no mistake – Sam might be the first out gay player in the league, but he will not be the only gay player in the league. Odds are that some of those current gay players are established stars. As in, Super Bowl winners, Pro Bowlers, team and community leaders.
If one, or more, of them were to seize this opportunity to come out publicly, it would help Michael Sam immeasurably. And fair is fair – his actions have now made it easier for them.
Think about it. Let’s say that there’s a big-name superstar quarterback who’s gay. There have been rumors about one very high profile QB, and he has denied it, and we’re not in the business of outing folks. So let’s say that there’s a hypothetical guy – call him Peytom Breedgersberger. He’s one of the best at his position. He’s won the Super Bowl, he’s been MVP, and forget gay, he could come out as a Satanic alien baby snatcher and his team wouldn’t cut him. Unless he commits some sort of heinous crime he is, for all practical purposes, immune to backlash.
If this player came out, the heat would be dramatically lessened for Michael Sam. The heat would be lessened for anyone else who wanted to come out. His status would afford all the cover necessary for those of lesser stature. He could, once and for all, put the issue of gays in major league sports to rest.
This kid from Missouri, a college player with very little stroke at all, a player with much to lose and not a lot to gain by coming out before the draft, has done something that’s incredibly courageous, and we’re going to remember him for a long time.
How much respect would we have for the big name who said enough is enough and stepped forward to support Sam?
And how little respect are we going to have down the road when this player is finally outed, voluntarily or not, and we realize that when push came to shove, he remained quiet and let others fight his battle for him.
I’m sure my perspective here isn’t going to be shared by everyone. No, I don’t know what it’s like to endure the kind of prejudice that gays do. I don’t have to face that locker room every day. I get it. I really, really do. And I respect you if you disagree with me about the decision to remain quiet.
But I imagine we’re in complete agreement about the regard we’ll have for those who take this opportunity to support Michael Sam in the most powerful way possible.