Over the entire existence of professional football, every single player has been known by the public as a heterosexual…until now.
Former University of Missouri defensive lineman and NFL draft prospect Michael Sam revealed to ESPN’s Chris Connelly this week that he is gay.
Since his announcement, most of the story’s coverage has been positive.
Many football analysts, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, have used words such as “courageous” and “brave” to describe Sam’s decision to make his sexual orientation public. Multiple NFL players have voiced their support, including former linebacker Bart Scott.
“I think [his teammates] would respond with an open mind, try and get to know the guy,” Scott said in a CBS Sports interview. “People give football a bad rap, but if you look at the history of the sports, they’ve always been on the cusp of social issues. Football forces you to get to know the person and what they represent.”
Others, such as former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards, have responded with a more hesitant view, comparing Sam’s situation with other “off-the-field issues.”
“He’s bringing baggage into your locker room,” Edwards said. “So when you think about Michael Sams (sic), all the sudden, can the players handle the media attention they’re going to get when they get the question asked, ‘Are you okay with a gay teammate?’”
Also in response to Sam’s announcement, some NFL executives, who remained anonymous, said he could be a “distraction.”
Sam originally made the announcement to his Missouri teammates before this past season in August. It proved to be of little distraction as the Tigers finished with a 12-2 record, earned a berth in the Southeastern Conference Championship game and were victorious in the Cotton Bowl.
During the season, Sam tallied 11.5 sacks, was named a first-team AP All- American and was honored with the Defensive Player of the Year award in the SEC. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel had only positive things to say about Sam.
“Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others,” Pinkel said in a statement released Sunday night. “He’s taught a lot of people here firsthand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team, and we all support each other.”
Michael Sam is a trailblazer for gay athletes. The fact is that he is a leader, a winner and a pioneer for the future of equality in American sports. Sam is not only giving hope to gay athletes but giving hope to our country as an equal sports nation.
Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., currently allow for gay marriage, a cornerstone in American equality. If being gay is still a “distraction,” perhaps Sam’s announcement will give those select citizens a much needed wake-up call.
“It’s a big deal. No one has done this before,” Sam said in the ESPN interview. “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.”
Sam Hoffmeister also contributed to writing this article.