Michael Sam reveals he’s gay: Is the NFL ready for him?
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist February 9, 2014 9:29PM
- VIDEO: Michael Sam Opens Up About Sexuality
- Twitter Reaction: Players, fans, media on Michael Sam's announcement
Updated: February 9, 2014 10:46PM
A gay — out — active football player has arrived.
His name is Michael Sam, and he is a Missouri defensive end preparing for the NFL draft in May.
Is he any good? Well, the 6-2, 255-pound Sam had 111/2 sacks in 2013, including three games with three each, and was named the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year.
When did he come out? Well, he apparently told his Tigers teammates in August, and they rallied around him, uniting to lead Missouri to one of its best seasons in many years.
‘‘I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads, like, ‘Finally, he came out,’ ’’ Sam told the New York Times on Sunday of that announcement last summer.
But that was pretty much the end of it, this news that, in a sense, the sporting world has been waiting on for a long time.
Now he has come out to the world. And besides the question about how NFL draft folks will handle his sexual preference, there is a bigger issue: Will all gay athletes now feel free — or freer — to announce whom and what they are?
Football is a manly sport. It might not be fair, but it’s not really news if a male ice skater, diver or ballet dancer announces he is gay. There is so much wink-wink about homosexuality in this country that we live in an atmosphere of denial, uncertainty and, at times, open discrimination against people who simply act as though they’re gay.
That expectation for male homosexuals is that they likely mince about, are overly effeminate or somehow don’t exude the machismo we equate with being a ‘‘guy.’’
Well, Sam is rough and rugged. His life was as hard as anyone’s. A brother shot and killed, a sister dead before he knew her, two other brothers in jail — none of it was easy. But he knew, he says, from an early age that he was attracted to males, that he was — ta-da! — gay.
‘‘I understand how big this is,’’ he said on ESPN’s ‘‘Outside the Lines.’’ ‘‘It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be. . . . I want to be a football player in the NFL.’’
Will he be? Or will there be too much pressure and unstated discrimination to allow that to happen?
Before his official self-outing, Sam was projected to be a third- or fourth-round draft pick. Will he drop precipitously? Can NFL players, many of whom believe — because of religious or family teachings — that gays are to be avoided or shunned, deal with an openly gay man in their locker room?
Bill Polian, an ESPN analyst and a former general manager of the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts, said in an interview: ‘‘I think he will be received well.’’
He went on to explain the simple NFL dynamic: ‘‘I think he can help you win. And if you can do that, you’ll be welcomed.’’
Of course, Polian correctly added that Sam’s appearance in any camp ‘‘will be a media event of great magnitude.’’
In sportswriter terms, that means it will be a zoo. Every camera crew in the world will be trying to get exclusives from Sam and his teammates. I can envision reporters wanting to go with Sam to gay clubs or wanting to know about his personal life beyond the normal boundaries.
Does a team want that chaos? Sam obviously doesn’t. As he said, he just wants to be a pro player.
Sam played his heart out at Missouri, and he poured it out when he told the world he is gay.
A pioneer, he is. We’ve been waiting for him forever.
May his journey bring him nothing but peace.