Michael Sam – The Fallout

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Missouri

          Once again we have a situation in sports were we need to reflect upon society’s progress, and evaluate where we are in terms of acceptance. This past week, former Missouri defensive end and NFL hopeful, Michael Sam, let the world know that he is gay. How this is accepted by the NFL has yet to be determined, and we won’t know for sure until the NFL draft in May, though this week’s NFL combine may provide a bit of insight.

          The initial response has been mostly positive, with players and coaches taking to witter and quoted in articles as supportive of Sam’s open lifestyle. However, quotes from anonymous general managers and executives from around the league have stated that the NFL is not ready for an openly gay player. On top of that, Sam’s own father has said to the media that he is having trouble dealing with his son being gay. His own father, one of the few people in this world you should be able to count on for anything.

Sam's father, Michael Sr, struggling with his son's announcement.

Sam’s father, Michael Sr,
struggling with his son’s
announcement.

          Let’s go ahead and start picking apart this story from this point. Sam’s own father, Michael Sam Sr., is having issues with his college graduate, football star son being gay. While, of his other seven children, one was killed, two are in prison, and another is missing. Sam was also there the day his older brother died. He watched him die. Michael Sam Jr. at one point lived out of his mom’s car, then later out of the home of a classmate during high school, helping them around the house as thanks. He is also the first member of the Sam family to go to college, and graduate. But because he’s gay, Michael Sam Sr. is having problems accepting his successful son, who overcame much to reach the point he’s at? Since his initial statement, Michael Sam Sr. has backtracked on his stance, but it’s hard to get over what he said. Regardless, I hope he truly does realize his mistake.

          Also, despite winning co-defensive player of the year honors in the SEC, Sam is now expected to fall in the draft due to his announcement. These comments are also from anonymous NFL executives. They gave two main reasons: first, he’ll bring a media circus as the first openly gay man in the NFL. Second, as openly gay player in the locker room will be a distraction. Starting with the second point, if you really believe a gay player in the locker room to be a distraction, then talk to Missouri. They won the SEC West after many expected the Tigers to finish last or near last in the SEC. They knew for the entire 2013 season that Sam is gay. So it really didn’t seem to affect them. Regarding the first point, former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth addressed this best. He pointed out how Manti Te’o went to San Diego following the Lennay Kekua saga, and disappeared from the media while having a strong season and helping the Chargers make the playoffs. He also pointed to the New England Patriots, and I think we all understand what he means with them. To put it simply, if your team can’t handle the media, what can you be expected to handle? The media is part of the NFL, and every team has to deal with it. If you’re looking at the Tim Tebow era in Denver, then you’re looking at a failed experiment, not the norm. Therefore, both points made by anonymous NFL executives are invalid.

Donte Stallworth, who had his own legal troubles in the NFL, make valid points on twitter.

Donte Stallworth, who had
his own legal troubles in
the NFL, made valid points
on twitter.

          This is a league that has forgiven men convicted of torturing animals, driving drunk, assault, sexual harassment, and illegal drug use,among other things. Some players have even been accused of murder or rape. But once the charges are dropped, or they’ve served their time, those players are welcome right back into the NFL as long as they still have talent. But a player who simply wants to be open about his lifestyle and not feel restricted, well now, you’re asking too much. I can understand the initial concern, because everyone deals with fear and confusion when presented with an unknown situation. But once you get past the first wave of emotions, get over it. Missouri did just fine, so you know that it can be done. You can have an openly gay player in your locker room. We already know it.

          May I also point out that Sam is not the first openly gay player to play in a major pro sport in the United States? Los Angeles Galaxy winger Robbie Rogers played his first game following his own announcement back in May of 2013, and everything has been just fine. He’s still a member of the club, and should continue to be for the foreseeable future. Also, Robbie played for the Columbus Crew for five years. Respect.

But the NFL garners the big stage, much bigger than the MLS, and that’s part of why this is a story. The other parts are the need for acceptance of someone’s lifestyle, and that bigotry is still part of the world. But really, there should be no concern about Michael Sam in the NFL, and he should only be judged for his on-field talent, along with his off-field conduct, which does not include anything involving his sex or romantic life of course.

Dale Hansen of WFAA-Dallas also made great points on Sam going to the NFL.

Dale Hansen of WFAA-Dallas
also made great points on
Sam going to the NFL.

There is another part to this story I want to get into for a moment, and it’s an extreme opposite of bigotry that needs to be pointed out. I’m referring to those people that accept homosexuality, then wish ill upon those who don’t. These are the very same people preaching an open mind, speaking of progress, learning, and understanding. How does telling someone who doesn’t accept homosexuality to “Kill themselves”, or “Jump off a cliff”, or even just flat out “Die” bring about progress? How does that help support the ideas of acceptance and tolerance? It doesn’t. We’ve all been guilty of such feelings, saying such things, but it doesn’t make those feelings right. It only proves we have a long way to go on both sides of the issue.

Off the soapbox and back on topic, Michael Sam will face adversity on his path to the NFL. But he’s talented, intelligent, and works hard. As long as he can contribute, someone will give him a chance. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Sam going undrafted as long as he performs well at the combine and his pro days, because again he’s talented. At the end of the day, teams just want football players. If they can look past criminal records, they can get over a player being gay.

          Now let’s shut up and play football… in several months.

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