Michael Sam coming out gay is a game changer for the NFL
Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) is congratulated by defensive lineman Lucas Vincent (96) after sacking Florida Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy. Sam, who was the Southeastern Conference defence player of the year, announced he was gay. (USA Today/photo)
Everybody pulls their pants on one leg at a time.
But how, and where, they take them off, evidently still makes a big difference.
Which explains the tsunami of controversy that swamped the NFL on Monday in wake of Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay.
Sam’s sexual orientation will come as little surprise to many NFL scouts, or teams.
It’s just that Sam hadn’t advertised the fact to the rest of the world.
“We knew of his status for five years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything (which) says a lot about our family atmosphere,” Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner tweeted, Monday.
There would be no kiss-and-tell. To them, he was just Michael, and they were happy he contributed to a lot of high-fiving in a 12-2 season that culminated in a Cotton Bowl victory. After recording 111/2 sacks and 19 tackles for losses, he was projected as a third- to fifth-round NFL draft pick.
Two little words may have changed that. “I’m gay!”
The media floodgates opened. All is a-Twitter.
The NFL Network forgot all about Johnny Manziel to talk about what is being described as a cataclysmic shift in society. NFL general managers and scouts are quietly predicting Sam’s announcement will see him drop in the draft.
Social media praised and raged. He is hell-bound. He is the new anointed leader of the greatest crusade since Richard The Lion Heart marched on Jerusalem. Take your choice.
He is brave. He is doomed. The comments section in his Facebook page was inundated with people praising him as a ‘positive role model’ and thanking him for his ‘brave and class act’.
Then there was the posting calling him a “gay commercial being shoved down children’s throats”.
He has become a cause celebre and it has all the feel of being stuck in the 1950s. He is Rosa Parks. It’s Jackie Robinson incarnate. Are we actually discussing this? Really?
Just pull on your jockstraps and play!
Somewhere between championing Sam, and ridiculing him, there are a lot of ordinary people who are merely tired of the whole rainbow dialogue.
Sam had an openly gay lifestyle at Missouri, where he this year was named the SEC defensive player of the year. He went to a gay bar; even dated a fellow athlete, although someone who wasn’t on his football team. Despite Sam’s dating preferences, it seems, none of his teammates thought showering with their clothes on would be necessary.
It was never an issue.
But no openly gay player has yet played a game in the NFL, Major League Baseball the NBA or NHL — and, it is evident a lot of folks would prefer to keep it that way.
Reporters approached Sam about speaking about his sexual orientation several weeks ago at the Senior Bowl. He demurred.
But Sunday he told ESPN and the New York Times: “I am an openly, proud gay man. I understand how big this is,” Sam said. “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.”
Truth is, right now nobody really knows if he can be a player. If he will be allowed to become a player. Aside from his sexual orientation being a hurdle, there are those who believe he is under-sized to be a defensive end in the NFL.
What is certain, is that Sam’s declaration has opened the closet door to speculation, applause and vitriol.
The entire dialogue is discomforting. It’s like Rosa Parks never got on the bus. Listening to the Jeremy Shockey choir, it’s a little like hearing a bus driver telling Parks she can’t take a seat along with all the white folks. Patrick Crayton, an NFL free agent wide receiver and former Dallas Cowboys player, tweeted, “Oh wow!! There goes the NFL.”
He is among several current and former players that have made it clear that they don’t want to see gays in the NFL, showing that some attitudes haven’t changed much since former Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey went on The Howard Stern Show in 2002 and said he didn’t want homosexual team-mates in his locker room.
Officially the NFL has indicated it would welcome a gay player. Unofficially?
Maybe not so much. “When did this become a heroic act?” Giants defensive back Charles James tweeted. “I just want to come out and let everybody know that I am ... straight as hell.”
Linebacker Johnathan Vilma indicated gays wouldn’t be accepted in most NFL locker rooms.
“Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?” Vilma said in an NFL Network interview.
Newsflash: Vilma and Shockey have been taking showers with gay guys for years. They just never knew.
What they fail to understand is that Sam isn’t going to run over and plant a Valentine on their rump, anymore than a guy in an office environment would do that to a woman working at the next cubicle.
There is no doubt that whichever NFL team selects Sam, they will be swamped by media — everyone from Sports Illustrated to Playboy and GQ, to Good Housekeeping, showing up to watch him do push-ups. Off-season training sessions will turn into a media circus.
His presence will be a distraction. The question is, will a team be willing to deal with those distractions, in hopes of getting what is a rare commodity in pro football — a good pass-rusher and one that ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay told USA TODAY Sports might have been college football’s most dominant player during the first half last season.
The league released a statement saying it admired Sam’s “honesty and courage” and that it looked “forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
In reality, it is an opinion that remains far from unanimous.
If Sam’s declaration has shown one thing, it is that his coming-out party won’t end homophobia any more than Jackie Robinson eliminated racism in 1947 when he stepped through baseball’s colour barrier.
ROBINSON WOULD WELCOME A GAY MAN TO HIS TEAM
Toronto Argonauts’ fullback Zander Robinson doesn’t know if he has ever shared a dressing room with a gay athlete.
But chances are, he says, that the answer is: “Yes.” And, he’s just fine with that.
“On our team (the Argos), I don’t know. But it would be an anomaly if I hadn’t (played, showered and dressed with a teammate who was gay). It’s just becoming more and more mainstream,” Robinson said, from his home in Vancouver on Monday.
Robinson, a free agent himself this spring, filmed a YouTube video this off-season for Get Real, an organization dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports. Michael Sam’s declaration Sunday that he is gay, prior to the Feb. 22-25 NFL draft combines, is another step in that direction.
“It’s gonna be a big deal,” Robinson said. “There are other people in the NFL who are gay, but the fact a guy feels he can come out and openly say that he is gay kind of shows that society is becoming more accepting.”
Robinson played university football at Western. He said he was unaware if any of his team-mates had been gay.
An NFL assistant coach Monday told Sports Illustrated: ‘There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that,’ and that Sam’s decision wasn’t “a smart move”. That, at this point, “it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a (gay slur) is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.’”
Robinson, though, believes “change is coming” and doesn’t see it hurting locker room. He does understand a team might not want to deal with the media attention but he believes most players would be supportive of a gay teammate.
“It came across my browser last night and I was like, ‘Good for this guy.’ He’s definitely a ground breaker and I think that he’ll be somebody the media and the rest of North America will rally around.”