Coming out of the football closet

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Where did you get that rock?

Where did you get that rock?

Michael Sam openly announces his sexuality prior to draft day

Article: Aidan Macnab – Contributor

Michael Sam is a 6’ 2”, 255 pound, 24-year-old, defensive end from the University of Missouri. He’s from Hitchcock, Texas and was honoured as a co-defensive player of the year for the NCAA’s South Eastern Conference (SEC), this past season. And, overall, appears to be just another football player from the United States hoping to go pro.

But, over the next several months, Sam will be working hard to make a dream come true by earning a spot on an NFL roster. According to Sports Illustrated, Sam is expected to be chosen somewhere between the third and seventh rounds in the NFL draft.

However, Sam is not a typical NFL prospect. He is hoping to be the NFL’s first openly gay player.

He made the admission to his fellow Missouri Tigers last summer, prior to his outstanding senior year and he extended that confidence to the rest of the football world earlier this month.

It is hard to predict how enthusiastic an NFL franchise will be to join Sam in blazing the trail for gay athletes. Sam’s public announcement of his identity may be seen by some team management as baggage or a distraction, as detrimental to team chemistry, and may carry with it unwanted media scrutiny. These factors reasonably cast doubt on whether Sam’s pre-coming-out draft prediction of a mid-round pick will hold true now.

The NFL is doing its best to present a united front of acceptance and even excitement toward the idea of a gay player.

“We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014,” was a portion of the official statement released by the league on NFL.com.

Also according to NFL.com and its “media insider” Ian Rapoport, Sam need not worry about being discriminated against in the draft. He believes that the fact that there are younger GMs now than in the past makes the league collectively more liberal-minded and therefore equipped to deal with a gay athlete.

However, not everyone is that confident or supportive.

No stranger to both positive and negative shades of the spotlight, former NFL Pro-Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson tweeted his opinion that Sam’s draft stock will “plummet.”

Also via Twitter, former New Orleans Saints, though currently unspoken-for, receiver Patrick Crayton expressed disapproval with Sam’s public announcement. Among Crayton’s tweets was the advice, “Stay in the closet and keep to urself!!!” reported SportingNews.com.

The Twitter activity of a few individual players may not serve as a sufficient indication as to how Sam will actually be received. But, according to SportsIllustrated.com, the NFL may be attempting to show the world open arms, when in reality Sam may be confronted with a less welcoming atmosphere.

Eight anonymous “NFL executives and coaches” reported to be of the opinion that Sam’s coming out would indeed hurt his draft-ability.

However, it is the public nature of his homosexuality that is the issue as SI.com also claimed that most NFL teams were aware of Sam’s sexual orientation prior to his coming out.

The optimistic view of the Michael Sam situation, which is being promoted by the league, follows the principle that the only relevant characteristic of any player is his ability to help a team win games. The league is a true meritocracy, and if Sam shows he is capable of helping a team win the Super Bowl, he will succeed.

Interestingly, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, is the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins.

According to NBC Sports Vince Lombardi, who had a gay brother, coached a running back named Ray McDonald. In 1969, McDonald was arrested for having sex in public with a man, and Lombardi was reported as having told his team, “If I hear one of you people make reference to [McDonald’s] manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”

Dave Kopay, also gay and also a member of that ’69 Redskins squad, had a relationship with teammate Jerry Smith. Despite the fact Lombardi never told him so, Kopay is convinced that he knew.

According to USA Today, Lombardi “demanded an atmosphere of tolerance in the locker room.” One would assume that a league, which lionizes Lombardi and whose ultimate prize bears his name, should embrace his ideals.

Michael Sam still has a lot to prove. He is undersized for his position and a good college career does not guarantee you a job in the NFL. But if he shows he has what it takes, hopefully the NFL will prove that they do also.

But, if Sam is unsuccessful, we all must keep in mind the many, many different factors at play when a college star attempts to turn pro. It is not right to attach the viability of homosexuality in football, with Sam’s survival in the league.

Image: Mark Schierbecker

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