I wonder if Michael Sam had a support system, would he be playing in the NFL?
If you google Michael Sam’s name you’d discover that he was the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team. Then you would find out that he was the 2013 SEC defensive player of the year, but was the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft. Many note his disappointing NFL scouting combine performance as the reason why he didn’t make a team’s roster. But I believe he dropped down to the seventh round because he announced he was gay, something he didn’t want to do until after the draft, but his publicist persuaded him to do otherwise. During a speaking engagement at Florida Atlantic University, Sam mentioned that around the time of the combine he was dealing with the negative comments stemming from his coming out. Though his combine performance was less than stellar, Sam said that he noticeably improved his numbers during the University of Missouri’s pro day. However, the media failed to talk about those numbers, instead they continued to elaborate on those from the combine.
Unfortunately, after a great pre-season with the, now, Los Angeles Rams and a quick stint on a Canadian team, Sam is now playing a different game. He is a public speaker, spreading awareness about the LGBT community and speaking out against bullying. He wants the world to destroy stereotypes and acknowledge diversity in all areas of sports. Dear America, especially the sports world, the LGBT community does exist, so we have to stop ignoring them. That is what Sam iterated when I asked him what steps the NFL could make in order to prepare for an openly gay NFL player. First, the NFL needs to accept that there are gay players in the league. They may not yet be as bold as Sam, the 2014 ESPYS Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient, but they are present.
This past summer Sam hung up his cleats and left his football life behind him. But what would have happened if Sam had the same support system out in the “Big Leagues” as he had as a college football player in Mizzou, when he announced his sexuality? Would he be still playing in the NFL? My answer is yes. You can’t go from being a projected third round draft pick to never getting a chance to play a snap in a regular season NFL game.
Rams head coach Jim Fisher even praised him over his preseason performance saying “I believe he can play in the league.” But, in my opinion, he was never given a chance to play because of his sexuality. Perhaps the League was worried that the media would have turned it into a circus, shifting focus of the game to how athletes felt about playing with a gay teammate. Perhaps they believe players would develop trust issues, leading to a decline in their team’s chemistry. But Sam said the opposite was true, he even pointed out how he gained the trust of his Rams teammates. The organization could have feared losing sponsorship deals due to a gay player being on their roster. They could have easily feared that a gay player would be a distraction. After all, sports is masculine profession and being gay is associated with femininity. Some may even question whether a homosexual player could make or take a hit on the field.
But in order for there to be this type of inclusion on the male sports arena, support can not only come from the major leagues. The LGBT community needs to support their own, so that players would feel comfortable coming out. This is not to say that they aren’t, but initiating a sports oriented campaign can go a long way in helping players to feel comfortable enough to come out. The stereotypes of homosexuals being considered “sissies,” along with the use of gay slurs also need to stop.
I am disappointed that Michael Sam was robbed of living his dream. From the beginning, I believe the media was too focused on his sexuality. His life was turning into a reality show. When Sam kissed his now ex-boyfriend, Vito, during his draft party on live national television, the media went crazy and that is something that Sam, still to this day, doesn’t understand. I wanted Sam to play to prove that a person’s sexuality has nothing to with their professional aptitude. Beyond that, I wanted him to continue to prove his older brothers, who bullied him as a child, wrong. That their family name could represent more than just jail prone delinquents.
Hopefully, his brave act will open the doors for more players to come out. The more players that announce that they are gay, the less the NFL can run away from this issue. In fact, since 2013 the NFL Rookie Symposium, The League has been discussing sexual orientation and I applaud them for that. It’s a great start, but it’s up to the players, coaches, the teams personal, the LGBT Community, and every member of society, to put an end to discrimination.