We’d be fooling ourselves if we believe that there are no gay athletes in professional sports. We’d be fooling ourselves if we believed the locker room was the last bastion of the “man’s man”. Yes, we would be fooling ourselves. This weekend an act of courage happened in the sports world. University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out as an openly gay man, and he could become the first openly gay player in the National Football League if he is drafted this May. For this he should be applauded, but this should also be a reminder that we live in a World where this is still a big deal.
Michael Sam, 24 years old, led the Southeastern Conference with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss this past season. He was rewarded as the Defensive Player of the Year. Sam is a projected middle round draft pick (likely the 4th round or later), and is projected to play either defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level. He played last season free of scrutiny. Why? His teammates knew. Before the season started, in a trust exercise, he came out to his teammates and coaches. It has been said that they accepted him, and clearly they have, because in this world of social media and leaks, his “secret” was well kept. No one outed him. In his interview with Chris Connelly of ESPN, Sam spoke of “living his truth” and getting his lifestyle out there, before it was done for him. For that, I commend him.
I’m a simple man. I believe that you love who you love, and as long as you live an honorable life, who in the hell am I to judge? What you do or who you choose to be with has no impact on my life, nor should it have an impact on people around you. Michael has already stated that he wants to be a football player, not an activist, and as long as he can fit into a locker room I’d like to believe that he will see little negative impact from this. However, I’d be fooling myself if I think that it will all be smooth sailing for him going forward.
I would be fooling myself if I believed that he won’t come across some negative elements. The NFL Draft process is a long and grueling one. It’s a process where he’s going to be questioned by coaches and general managers about his life. Team personnel will be delving deep into his life for any secrets or misinformation. He’s going to be questioned by active and retired players, as well as the media. He will be met with negativity as to his sexual preference. There will be teams who will take him off of their draft boards because of what his presence could do to the locker room and the community. Michael Sam is going to have to deal with all of that. Even if he is drafted, and I honestly believe he will be, he’s going to also have to deal with the locker room. It is what it is. Homophobia exists, and we would all be fooling ourselves if he doesn’t face that in some aspect in the locker room and on the field. This young man is about to walk down a tough road but I wish him the best.
So congratulations to Michael Sam for being brave enough to “live his truth”. Congratulations for taking the first step not only for yourself, but for many others who feel the need to stay in the shadows. As I stated earlier I hope we’ll one day live in a World where something like this is not a big deal, but since it is a big deal, I applaud him for not running from it. He’s facing it, taking it on, and looking forward to an opportunity to be a player in the National Football League. For his sake, and for the others that will follow his example, I hope he gets that opportunity.
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