Michael Sam made a bit of History Sunday when the SEC Defensive Player of the Year announced that he is gay. This is truly an historic moment, not just for the NFL but American sports as a whole. Like many others, I took to my preferred social media platforms to see what the reaction was and I came out of that more devastated than I expected.
On the professional side there was Herm Edwards, former Jets and Chiefs head coach who stated that Sam will be, “Bringing Baggage” with him into an NFL locker room (http://deadspin.com/herm-edwards-suggests-mike-sam-is-bringing-baggage-in-1519691334). There were people on Facebook commenting on SportsCenter’s post about Michael Sam that had clever comments like, “That post game shower is going to be awkward,” and, “He should be fitted for pom poms not shoulder pads.” Then there is the anonymous (cowardly) NFL executive who told Sports Illustrated that the NFL is, “still a man’s-man game.”
So just to wrap all that hate up, that’s Herm Edwards saying being gay is akin to having off the field issues, the, “Facebook tough guy” comparing being gay to being a cheerleader, and some NFL executive claiming that Sam is not quite man enough to play in the NFL. I guess you can’t say it in Herm’s case but the second and third people are sure tough in the mighty cloak of anonymity.
Then there are those saying something along the lines of, “I don’t care about his sexuality, I care about the effort/dedication/heart he shows on the field.” Whereas I just discussed the people who have things completely wrong I’d like to address those who are just a tad too forward thinking for me. Because I think Michael Sam’s sexuality is a big deal, except I don’t mean that in a negative way. When he is signed to a team, and he will be, Michael Sam will be the first active, openly gay male athlete in any of the big four leagues. We shouldn’t be understating how groundbreaking and important that is.
It’s important because it’s the NFL. Our biggest sport and biggest stage will have our first active openly gay athlete. It’s important because the Mizzou roster apparently knew of Sam’s sexual orientation before the season began because he came out to them. That shows that a college football roster could play with alongside a man who is out, and did so without spilling the beans to the first reporter with a functioning microphone. Certainly we can expect the same amount of respect and professionalism from an NFL roster. But all of that pales in comparison to the biggest reason that Michael Sam’s sexuality is important. It’s because he’s becoming a role model. If you don’t think tons of growing children will be watching Michael Sam and his NFL career, you’re lying to yourself. Michael Sam is saying, “this is who I am,” and that alone makes a difference.
Other than what I just talked about I don’t see how Sam’s sexuality is a topic up for discussion. This time last year you didn’t see a single person talking about how drafting Tyrann Mathieu meant you were opening up your locker room to increased drug use. He wasn’t any less of a man because he had a substance abuse problem. I don’t think the team shower after a game will produce any issues for Sam. There were no draft day stories about how Manti Te’o might dangerously increase the amount of online dating in his NFL locker room. I’m certain Sam won’t be lining up for a basket toss when his coach wants him on the field. And yet somehow CBS draft boards had Sam falling approximately 70 spots due to a press conference. Being gay isn’t baggage or an off the field issue. It doesn’t mean that Sam will rank who on the team has the best abs. All Michael Sam’s coming out means is that he’s a man who shows great heart and courage. I wish him all the success at the next level.