Last night I got a notification on my cell phone that the SEC co-defensive player of the year and All-American, Michael Sam, was announcing he was gay and could be the first openly gay NFL player.
My first thought was that I hoped this announcement would not negatively affect his draft standing. I had that thought because openly gay athletes are still not common place in professional sports and the topic of gay professional athletes seems to be an unapproachable topic.
The biggest questions raised by Sam’s announcement are, will football fans be open to the idea of an openly gay player playing on their team and is the NFL ready for an openly gay player?
While I personally do not agree with homosexuality as a lifestyle, I also know that a person’s sexual orientation is not an excuse to hate or discriminate against anyone.
Some might think that homosexual people are sissy or would be unable to be tough enough on the football field, but Sam proves that not to be true and I know that Sam is one person that I would not want to mess with. In 2013 Sam led the SEC in sacks with 12 and in tackles for loss with 19.
Additionally, in his four years with Missouri Sam had a total of 111 total tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Sam also is 6’3", weighs 255 pounds, and was the 2013 SEC co-defensive player of the year. From an ability standpoint, Sam is a great player and should be welcome on any NFL team.
However, I do know that fans have their own opinions, and some are set in their ways. Although some segments of the country are becoming more accepting and understanding of gay marriage and different types of sexuality I still think that Sam as the first openly gay NFL player, meaning that he will be a pioneer and most likely the recipient of ridicule and hatred from NFL fans.
Is the league itself ready for an openly gay player? I say no, and I say that based on recent incidents that have played out regarding gay marriage or the possibility of gay players.
One of the most recent incidents was the article written on deadspin.com by former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe claiming that he was fired because of his stance on gay marriage. Kluwe says he was fired by two cowards, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and former Vikings head coach Leslie Frasier, and by a bigot, special teams coach Mike Priefer.
According to Kluwe, Frazier said Kluwe, "needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights),” while Priefer allegedly said, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows,” and created a homophobic environment, and constantly used homophobic language around Kluwe.
Another incident includes former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. After offering support for a Maryland ballot initiative to allow gay marriage, Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. sent a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti that basically said football players who disagree with Burns should know their place and keep quiet. After a reply letter by Kluwe, Burns seemed to back off some basically saying Ayanbadejo has his right to free speech.
Two other incidents from 2013 involve the San Francisco 49ers' Chris Cullver and Seattle Seahawks player Chris Clemons. Culliver was quoted as saying, “I don’t do the gay guys, man. I don’t do that. Got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff…Can’t be…in the locker room, nah. You’ve gotta come out 10 years later after that,” while Clemons was quoted as saying, “Who on God’s earth is this person saying he’s coming out of the closet in the NFL? I’m not against anyone but I think it’s a selfish act.”
While Culliver apologized for his remarks and some believe that Clemons' comments could be more about questioning a gay person’s timing with coming out or if the coming out is a publicity stunt, one still has to wonder how many players, owners, coaches and personnel in the NFL would be indifferent or hateful toward openly gay players.
Kluwe and Ayanbadejo both think that the culture is changing in the NFL toward the more acceptance toward gay players, but until all hatred and bigotry is gone from the NFL, interaction between openly gay players and their teammates, coaches and employers will remain a big topic of discussion.
Michael Sam comes out and it is immediately national news, and I think that has to do a lot with people's fear and misunderstanding of gay people and because of the fact that in lots of ways gays are still fighting for equal rights, in society and in professional sports.
People need to accept people for who they are and move on. The focus needs to be on doing the job one was hired to do not what a player does in their personal time. Gay, straight, or other, the common goal of football is to come together as a team and win games. Everybody that works or plays in the NFL is a human being just like everyone else, and no one should think of himself or herself better then someone else.
While Michael Sam might face ridicule or hatred from some for his announcement, I hope that NFL teams will do the right thing and this announcement will not negatively affect his draft status or having a great NFL career. If I am right and the NFL is not ready for this, it needs to get ready because its not fair to have football players and people in general live in fear.