Michael Sam comes out; will any existing players join him?

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.

Categories: LGBT, Sports

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4 replies »

  1. Had an interesting discussion about this today. One of my colleagues named a couple of NFL players who he said “everyone knows were gay” To which I responded, “I didn’t. And I don’t think they really came out.” I think Michael Sam did the right thing by doing his best to control the story and take away the ability of people to out him forcibly or worse. Plus it takes away the distraction that a team might have had to deal with if this came out later. By the time of the draft, this will be old news.

    • If I wanted to be cynical about it, I could also argue that this is a clever strategy by Sam and his agent. Team reps were asking if he was gay, so the rumor was out there and if he left it alone he’d very quietly slide down the draft board.

      By doing what he had done, he has made it very, very hard for teams to do that to him. He’s projected in the third. If he’s still on the board come the top of the fourth round, what do you think is going to be the biggest (and most damaging) story in the sports world. The NFL needs that like it needs more talk about the racist nickname of a certain franchise in the vicinity of the nation’s capital.

      Phone calls have been made, I guarantee you. It is not going to be pleasant being a team that needs a pass rusher if they take a lower rated player in the third round.

      I’m not accusing Sam of cynicism by any stretch. But I do think it’s a case of the stars aligning behind a strategy.

  2. i am not prejudiced in any way, my father from another generation was. i did not find out until i was quite old and had already made my mind up. he was the smartest man i have ever known but very illogical in this instance. i have learned there are good and bad people in all races. white hell there is not white i would say cream colored. eventually we will all be pretty close to the same color, through mixing of the gene pool. i am purely hetrocexual my self, but have had many gay friends and really did not care what other people thought of me. that is what my dad instilled in me. like there was no need to keep up with styles, it is the person you are that makes you. sexual preference is your personal choice just like how you dress. how you treat other people is what is important. you have the right to make decisions for your self and it is no ones business if you are not hurting anyone else. drugs have bin in sports for along time, sexual preference has bin around since time began and through out all animals. things have gotten a lot better since i was a kid and will continue hopefully to improve. when i suggest that heroin should be legalized in the 70’s there was a lot different reaction from those i talked to(i do not use heroin). it is a persons right to make his own decisions right or wrong, that is what being an adult is all about. it has been over 200 years as a country, we are getting better, but allowing the constitution to lead us is sure talking a long time. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not what big bother tells us is right. we have the right to make decisions for our self. how much simpler can it be. will we make mistakes? sure. i do admire people that come out, because of all the head wind, but it is a personal choice. some people are stronger and can handle it better then others. hopefully someday it will not make a difference, but change is slow, a lot slower then what i thought it should be but it is changing. i know i will never see it, but some day people will have the right to make there own decisions without someone knowing what is best for them. life will be better for everyone. we can concentrate on getting the bad people off the streets, and will have plenty of room in the jails because they will not be full minor offenders learning how to be real criminals from the people that should be there. i hate to say it, but religion is what causes slow changes. peoples beliefs forced on others. allowing people to be themselves. if you want to be religious that is your business, do not force it on others. discussion fine force not fine. reduce all government and take away its power and money. take care of our own before trying to control the whole world. do not try to take away the incentive to take care of yourself, by giving everyone everything they need. allow people to pay the price for bad choices, not fix everything for them so there choices do not really matter. heres hoping for peace. i will now stop rambling.

    • Thanks, Art. There are a lot of people in the US who fancy themselves Libertarians who really don’t see it the way you do. The whole “reduce the government” thing is irrelevant here, of course, but we’d all be better off with a touch more live and let live in our daily lives.