Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

NFL Draft Hopeful Michael Sam Comes Out As Gay

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Someday soon, folks, I’m not going to have to write about a story like this one. At that time — whether it’s 2016, 2020, whatever — being an openly gay athlete is not going to be big-time news.

But as it’s 2014 and the NFL still doesn’t have an openly gay player (nor does MLB, the NBA, or the NHL), what a young man from Missouri, Michael Sam, has done by announcing that he is openly gay is big news.

On Sunday evening, Missouri’s All-American defensive end Michael Sam came out, officially, as gay during ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program. Sam is a legitimate NFL prospect, expected to be drafted anywhere from the third to fifth rounds, and is the reigning co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC — a very tough football conference where many of its best players often go on to illustrious NFL careers.

So you might be wondering, as I did, why Sam would choose to say this now, before any team gets a chance to draft him. The NFL seems to be homophobic (see my blog about Chris Kluwe’s experiences, and remember that Kluwe is not, himself, gay — he’s just an advocate for LGBT rights), and this may well affect Sam’s chances of getting drafted and/or signed by an NFL team.

Of course, it shouldn’t be this way.

As L.Z. Granderson points out in his article for ESPN.com, there have been gay players in the NFL at least since 1969 — Granderson quoted legendary coach Vince Lombardi as saying this: “”If I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.” (Note this was referencing a story written in 2013 by Ian O’Connor about Vince Lombardi and being pro-gay rights at a time few were.) There are numerous retired NFL players, including former Packers NT Esera Tuaolo, who was quoted in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press as saying that while he supports Sam fully, he couldn’t have done what Sam’s doing now back in the 1990s.

Sam’s openness about his sexuality has been acclaimed by former NBA player Jason Collins (who came out last year; see this blog for further details), well-known LGBT advocates and former NFL players Kluwe and Brandon Ayanbadejo, the latter writing this column for Fox Sports with a few words about Sam’s historic importance, and “You Can Play” advocate Wade Davis, himself a retired NFL player who happens to be gay.

But there’s something missing in most of the coverage about Michael Sam.

Simply put — Sam is a football player, plain and simple. More to the point, he’s a very good football player who should be drafted and can help any number of NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers, as a defensive end — Sam’s on the small side as a DE considering he’s listed at only 255 pounds, but he’s agile, light on his feet, and a hard tackler. He’s twenty-four years of age, meaning he’s mature. He’s lived through a lot of adversity in his life (the OTL piece is a must-see, if you haven’t taken it in already). And he’d be an asset in every possible way.

Yet instead of hearing about how mature Sam is, or about how much he can help a football team, we’re hearing about how historic this achievement is with regards to gay rights. And while I agree with that — it’s obvious — I just wish we were further along in this country.

Think about it, please. Why should it matter in 2014 that Michael Sam is gay if he can play football at a high level?

And why should these various NFL general managers, who are refusing to be quoted by name (such as in this piece by the Christian Science Monitor), be afraid that Michael Sam will somehow contaminate the locker room? Especially considering, as Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC program pointed out last night, that there are guys playing the NFL right now who are wife-beaters, girlfriend-beaters, who don’t pay child support for their children, who have problems with substance abuse . . . why are those players consistently finding work with these very same NFL GMs hardly batting an eye, when Michael Sam being an articulate and open gay man may cost Sam the chance to play in the NFL?

All that being said, of course I applaud Michael Sam for coming out. His stance is principled, honest, and above-board — and I respect it highly.

I just hope that by doing so, Sam hasn’t cost himself any chance at a job due to the intransigence and obduracy of the various, uncredited NFL GMs, who refuse to be quoted directly but have already cast a pall over Sam’s historic announcement.

One final thought: Is it bad of me to admit that I long for the day where a player can say, “I’m gay” and the pro sports league in question says, “So what?” (May that day come soon.)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2014 at 4:45 pm

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