This shouldn’t be a story. One day it won’t be.
Today it is.
Michael Sam is gay.
The SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, a senior defensive end out of Missouri, said as much to The New York Times, and now pro football must deal with the reality of a talented prospect projected to be a high draft pick coming out.
Sam isn’t the first athlete to reveal his homosexuality. He’s just the first one to do so in the NFL, the first one on the doorstep of his professional career to make his sexual orientation known.
It remains to be seen how team player-personnel directors will react to such news. Informal polls taken among those football men indicate that Sam’s announcement could adversely affect his draft status. In the machismo world of the NFL, where locker rooms stand as bastions of manly men being manly, acceptance of an openly gay teammate, apparently, is a new frightening frontier.
Players such as Jonathan Vilma whisper that they would be reluctant to shower in front of a gay teammate. Others, such as Chris Culliver, have said that a gay player would not be welcome on their team. He later apologized for that statement. Some players do not condone or tolerate homosexuality for reasons that vary from frame of reference to religious and/or moral objections. They believe it is weird or wrong.
What’s so curious about that last notion is that in some locker rooms it is completely acceptable for players, some of whom are married, to pursue and brag and joke about sexual conquests of multiple women, as though it were a badge of honor. But the concept of a teammate being gay is a moral offense, a sin against religious decency.
People, personnel directors and players should believe what they want to believe in terms of governing their own lives. They should follow the tenets they are committed to following. But when it comes to governing the lives of others, especially regarding something as personal as sexual orientation, those aforementioned boundaries should be honored by one individual for one individual — himself.
In the context of football, what difference does it make whom a player lies down with in his own bedroom? His private business is his business. If he can block or tackle or pressure a quarterback or pass or run, if he can do his job for the good of his team, and if he doesn’t break the law, who gives a flying rip who his love interest is? Is that notion really too advanced for the most popular sport in the land? For its players, its coaches, its executives, its owners, its fans?
For those who fear a gay teammate might hit on them, do they, if they are heterosexual, have the same fears about a teammate hitting on their girlfriend or their wife or their sister or any woman? Just because a gay man is attracted to a gay man, it doesn’t mean he’s attracted to … you. If the circle of comfort is really that miniscule, then players can cover up, or do what they have to do, to secure their own privacy.
For NFL coaches and executives who champion conformity, who prefer to limit any or all distractions as a clearer avenue to winning, they should consider the collective maturity on display at Missouri last season, when and where Sam made it known to his teammates and coaches that he was gay before the first game. The Tigers were so distracted they went 12-2 and won the SEC East. Sam led the league in sacks and tackles for loss en route to a stellar season and, as mentioned, was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. None of Sam’s teammates made public his revelation, leaving that to him.
He did so over the weekend.
Now, as the draft approaches, it’s left to NFL executives and coaches and players to react as they will. Sam’s coming out could cost him some cash, if his draft stock drops. On the other hand, he might be seen and held in higher esteem as honest and upfront, strong and courageous.
What he should be seen as is a football player.
If he can play the game, he should play it. If that’s a story today, it’s a story. One day, with any luck, it won’t be. His business will be his own.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM.