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article imageOp-Ed: Is the NFL ready for Michael Sam?

By Paul Bright     Feb 11, 2014 in Sports
Michael Sam is hardly the first gay athlete to come out, but he may be the first active NFL player. Is the NFL ready for Michael Sam?
This week, Missouri football Defensive End Michael Sam publicly announced that he is gay. He had already told his teammates earlier this year, so it wasn’t news to them or the local community. While athletes in other sports have come out with their sexuality, there are none that have done so while still actively playing in the NFL — but that may change.
Gay athletes in sports are no surprise, at least to America. No matter what our social or spiritual stance is on homosexuality, it takes a different turn when it comes to sports. What drives our opinion of homosexuality in sports comes down to one distinct American value: winning. If you don't believe that to be true, just take a look at how our country responded to the anti-gay laws in Russia before the 2014 Winter Olympics. There weren't exactly Westboro Baptist-style protests taking place at the airport. For the most part, I believe current NFL players could also care less about their teammate's sexuality, as long as he contributes positively to the team.
NFL players remind me of my fellow Airmen when I served in the Air Force. We cared about the mission first. We didn’t care about your lifestyle so long as it didn’t actually affect the mission. When the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” went into effect, most of my former airmen and ones that are currently serving simply yawned. We knew many gay airmen before the repeal, and it didn’t matter then. Why would it matter now? There were many more straight airmen cheating on their wives, getting drunk on duty or stealing lunches out of the refrigerator negatively affecting the mission than there were homosexual ones doing their jobs.
Even lesser-known NFL players that came out after playing, like Kwame Harris in 2013, didn’t face harsh scrutiny from ex-teammates. The same for Esera Tuaolo and Wade Davis, both former defensive players that came out and now fight for the rights of LGBT athletes. I doubt anyone on the receiving end of their tackles was questioning their sexuality. They were probably more worried about getting hit again.
Michael Sam could have an even bigger NFL career than his predecessors. Before he came out, Sam was projected as a third or fourth round pick. He is the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and is an All-American. He might be too small to play on the defensive line for the NFL but could find success as a linebacker if the conversion is successful. Although first-round prospect Jadaveon Clowney has an NFL-sized body and a freakish athletic ability, Sam’s numbers from this year are comparable, and they played in the same conference.
But if Sam were to be drafted and subsequently let go, I can see where the immediate “they cut him because he’s gay” outcry would be. That would be hypocritical for those who believe gays should have equal rights. Equal rights also means you can be equally bad based on your abilities or fit with a team, and not sexual orientation. It would take a team of high caliber and respect to take on Sam with as little controversy as possible.
Regardless of the draft outcome, hopefully this will be the beginning of an era where coming out as a player means very little and isn’t newsworthy. It’s only newsworthy because NFL scouts indirectly have asked players about their sexuality under the guise of “character” questions, putting those who wish to keep it private in an awkward position. Aren’t there straight players that don’t talk about their wives or girlfriends?
We shouldn’t care about Michael Sam’s sexuality, but we do. If he’s drafted and begins to play well in the NFL, maybe we won’t care about the next guy.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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