Mizzou Senior, Michael Sam, made history last week as the first potential NFL player to come out as gay before the draft. Reactions were mixed, but many questioned, “Why now?”
Sam answered that question in his interview with the New York Times. Scouts had already questioned Sam’s coaches about his sexuality. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told the New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
He is saying that the point of coming out when he did was not as much about attention now, as it was about avoiding unwanted attention later.
Sports Illustrated wrote a story on how Sam’s announcement could affect his draft prospects.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “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 game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
So the two extremes are as follows: on one side, Michael Sam cannot play in the NFL and would cause a “chemically imbalanced” distraction. On the other side, Sam is a hero and trail blazer.
For one thing, I would like to point out that Sam’s announcement has already brought media attention to himself and the NFL. This is obvious by the fact that I, someone who does not keep track of football, know his name. The question is whether this media attention, along with Sam’s sexuality, will be a distraction.
I keep envisioning this scene in the movie 42. In this scene, Jackie Robinson is sitting alone in the locker room after the game waiting for the rest of the team to shower. He always lets everyone shower first. When a fellow player asks why he is sitting alone he responds, “I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.” The fellow player shrugs it off and tells him not to wait anymore. In that moment, Robinson is accepted as part of the team. Robinson created a lot of media attention and could be considered a distraction, but I keep wondering if Sam will gain that acceptance moment.
It seems he already has. From what I can tell (and I don’t typically follow these sorts of things) Mizzou had a great season, even though all the coaches and players knew Sam was gay. It did not distract their game or tear apart their team, and the school stood with him – quite literally. Last week, his classmates “Stood with Sam” to block a protest from the Westboro Baptist Church, and he received a standing ovation while receiving the team’s trophy during a basketball game.
Sam is a trail blazer, in that he is doing something no one has ever done before: entering the draft out of the closet. The question here, is whether we at the point where his sexuality should not matter.
Everyone keeps bringing up the locker rooms. Sports, and everything that goes with them, are a very hetero-normative arena. Football in particular is extremely hetero-normative with its muscular male players and sexy girl cheerleaders. That hetero-normality must be acknowledged in order to make adjustments for Sam, and other homosexual athletes. Those adjustments may include a different locker room setup. This should be done in a way not to “protect” straight athletes, but also make LGBT athletes comfortable.
Sam has already proven that by not making homosexual athletes welcome in professional sports, we are potentially missing out on great players.
Sam is a good football player who has proven his sexuality is not a factor in the game. If a team decides not to draft Sam based on his sexuality, that would be discrimination. The truth is that we, as a country, have not completely decided whether that discrimination is wrong yet. So coaches and players can still make comments about “chemical imbalances.”
The “NFL player personnel assistant” in the Sports Illustrated article admitted gay players in the NFL will be acceptable in “a decade or two.” The acceptance has to begin somewhere, and will it begin now? We are about to find out. Michael Sam will definitely gain more media attention than other college seniors entering the draft this year, but this does not mean he can’t play a good game or help his team succeed.