Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Michael Sam Story Really Happened In August

Michael Sam will likely be the first openly gay player in the NFL. But is that the real story?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

On Sunday, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam gave interviews with ESPN's "Outside The Lines" and The New York Times in which he came out publicly as gay. Sam is a strong, but surely not a slam-dunk prospect in the upcoming April draft - probably a mid-round pick. As such, it would be pre-mature to say that he will be the first openly gay player in the NFL, but if he does become the first, it will be a huge deal.

But the most important element of the story and the most important date on the timeline will not be the weekend of May 8th. The most important part of the story is when he came out to his teammates and coaches before the season started back in August.... and nobody cared.... and nobody has talked about it since.

If you're looking for a counter-argument to the idea that there is widespread homophobia in American sports - that's it right there.

If the idea of pervasive homophobia throughout locker rooms all across America was correct, Michael Sam (in all likelihood) would not have come out of the closet on his own accord a month after his season ended. A closed-minded, bigoted teammate or coach would have either directly outed Sam, rumored about his sexual orientation, or at the very least, created a rift in the locker room that would have led to Sam making a public statement weeks or months ago.

But that didn't happen. It didn't even come close to happening. Well over a hundred people, from players, to coaches, to graduate assistants, and possibly (I'm guessing here) media relations coordinators knew about Sam's sexual orientation for going on six months and didn't say a word.

When stories about sexual orientation come up, it seems like columnists everywhere rush to ponder whether the NFL is "ready" for a gay player. Given how the locker room of a top-ranked NCAA program just handled it, I'm starting to wonder if it's really the columnists who aren't "ready" for the NFL to be "ready" for a gay player.

Whether Michael Sam is gay or straight doesn't matter. Really. At all. It's not information that we (the public) need. When someone comes out of the closet, they do it to their friends and family so that those people can accept them for who they truly are as a person. Michael Sam did that in August when he came out to his teammates, and earlier this month, when he came out to his parents. That's why the story that broke on Sunday, and the end of the day, doesn't really matter to us. We don't know Michael Sam. Our lives aren't any different for it. The reason Sam came out publicly is that he wants to be able to serve as an ambassador, just as Jason Collins does, to let other gay athletes know that it's okay, that it's safe. And in turn, public figures coming out makes it safe for everyday people to come out. So while it IS a big deal that Sam came out publicly, it will be a much bigger deal when these stories aren't a big deal anymore.

I have just one worry for Michael Sam, if and when he finally enters an NFL locker room - how will coaches other players react to the ensuing media circus? I'm not saying I expect them to have a problem with the fact that he is gay, I'm saying I wouldn't be shocked if a few players and coaches took issue with the fact that he'd be attracting a great deal of attention for something that had nothing to do with his performance as a football player.

Normally when this happens, it's because the player says outlandish things to the media, or because they've been in trouble with the law, and the higher-ups classify this as a "distraction." Now, this situation is obviously different, because Sam didn't just decide to be gay in the way that a person decides to say something incendiary or decides to break the law, but to a certain degree, it will be a great deal of attention for something that has nothing to do with how he plays on the field. If he goes out and bowls people over like the second coming of Reggie White, it won't be a problem. But if he struggles out of the gate, it might be.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. All that matters right now is that Michael Sam is projected to be a 3rd-5th round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and if he's selected, he will be another step along the path to equality. Jason Collins was one step. Robbie Rogers was another step. Sam will be another step, and soon after that we'll just be walking. Walking forward.

1 comment :

Unknown said...

So sick of hearing about gay rights that are so wrong,not because of moral denial or acceptance,not because of religion,or because some don't want to imagine their football hero bumping ugly's and being rump rangers.Not even because other players are worried about meaningful intimate contact.As sure as someone could start a heterosexual rights group,it's still not equality.Discrimination and rights activists unfortunately with good intent,end up going to far, thereby resulting in supporting segregation unintentionally.

The status quo for some,can already be a difficult feat to live up to,and may seem unreasonable to some to be expected:"NORMAL":Functioning or occurring in a natural way,free from physical or emotional disorder,average,standard,relating to or characterized by average intelligence or development,the expected or usual state,form,amount or degree.Football is a team sport not about the individual,like hair hanging out of the helmets to get attention,teamwork and talent on the field,should be the only things that stands out for the players.

Broadway is a great place for performers that may be looking for attention,even without a team.What HAS been acceptable role model behavior,seeming like the best so far,has been "don't ask,don't tell"keeping their private lives to themselves.Why can't this be enough? Is flaunting gayness a way to get attention and be special?What does any of this have to do with Football?