Michael Sam: Someone Has to Go First

When I first heard that football prospect Michael Sam came out as gay before the NFL draft, I thought, well, that was dumb. You’re jeopardizing your future for what? To share something essentially private with a bunch of people who didn’t ask for the information.

Of course, that was just a knee-jerk first response. My second thought was, man, this dude is really gutsy to take a chance like that with his career, and all because he wants to own his truth, as he told ESPN. Sam wanted to get ahead of any inadvertent big reveal that might have come as a result of him informing his college teammates and coach that he was gay this past summer. They were supportive, even indifferent, since some of them already knew.

Realistically, some pundits and random opinion givers are saying that Sam’s draft pick position is now way way down because of his announcement. This despite the fact that he was, according to my research, co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference — apparently considered the toughest conference in college football — and a first-team All-American defensive lineman last year at the University of Missouri — my alma mater — where his teammates voted him MVP. Although I don’t know a lot about football, the common sentiment across the Web seems to be, why oh why did he do this before he got a job?

But again, it goes back to guts. Someone has to go first. Someone had to refuse to get up from that bus seat. Someone had to refuse to get up from that lunch counter. Someone had to refuse to be sidelined or mistreated or disenfranchised just because they were different. Someone has to take a chance sometime, in order to affect change.

I find it quietly appalling that the NFL’s homophobic draft and locker room culture suggest that this tall, strapping male is not a man because he likes to have sex with other men. That Sam, without doing anything, mind you, would somehow imperil the focus or safety of his future team members. That he is deficient in some way, especially when his performance indicates quite clearly that is absolutely not so.

Hell, I’d lay odds there’s a bunch of NFL players, the toughest, manliest of men, slapping butts with towels and the whole bit, and they too are probably gay. They just aren’t brave enough to say so. Coaches should be queuing up to harness that kind of courage on the field.

With regard to the draft, time will tell. I sincerely hope some enlightened team will brave the media firestorm that will accompany Sam, pick him up, and give him what he needs to shine and do whatever it is that defensive linemen do. That team will almost certainly gain a ton of new fans, as the gay community is well-known for coming out in force, pocketbooks open, to support those who support them.

I’m hopeful. Hey, I said President Obama wouldn’t be elected. I said, “The world is not ready for a black man in that big white house” — even as I voted for him, twice — and he’s now half way into his second term. I’ll be watching, and I pray the powers that be at the NFL surprise us.

Oh, and please check out Texas newsman Dale Hansen’s fabulous response to Sam’s announcement. Talk about putting things in perspective. Kudos, Dale.