09 February 2014

What Michael Sam coming out means

(USA Today Sports)
An openly gay NFL player may be coming to a stadium near you this fall. Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, considered to a be a second or early third day pick in this year's NFL draft, said in interviews with both the New York Times and ESPN that he is gay. Sam came out to his teammates in August before an excellent senior season where he led the SEC in sacks, was named an All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and his own teammates voted him team MVP.

Now he is likely to become the first openly gay player in the history of the National Football League. Here is what that means.

Sam's announcement comes less than a year than when Jason Collins came out to Sports Illustrated, but Collins has yet to see the floor as he has remained a free agent since. The first ever openly gay professional athlete was Robbie Rogers for the Los Angeles Galaxy in late May. It is such a wonderful sign that professional athletes are slowly beginning to come out, and it is such a forward movement for sports and society as a whole.

But the NFL was always thought to be a different animal. We've always had the thoughts of the macho culture in the locker room, and that it was going to be difficult for any openly gay player in the NFL, at least initially. Now, it appears that Sam is going to be that guy that shatters the glass and is a trail blazer for gay players in the NFL.

And what has been very pleasing, and a little surprising, is that at least initially, the public reaction from some NFL players has been very positive. But there was a report a couple of years back that most players would not have an issue with a gay teammate, and we have seen guys say that they have known that they have played with teammates that they knew were gay.

But Sam is preparing for the NFL Draft, and now this will be the big story as to how this will affect his draft stock. Of course, it is comical in the grand scheme of things that the one thing we end up talking about with a gay athlete is how his coming out will affect his draft stock, but alas here we are. Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans have a piece for SI where they have spoken to a number of NFL personnel guys they all uniformly agreed that this will negatively affect Sam's draft stock. Of course there will be added media attention surrounding Sam, but has that ever really deterred teams from drafting guys with added media scrutiny. The fact that his stock would potentially be harmed by something completely unrelated to football shows how far there still is to go in society with out athletes.

No matter how you define it, this is a huge deal and I applaud Sam for making what had to be a difficult choice for him to make. But as he said in the interviews, he had to be him and what is not to like about that?

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