Just a few months ago, the NBA's Jason Collins became the first active pro athlete to come out, paving the way for this weekend's announcement. University of Missouri football player Michael Sam came out as gay -- in advance of the NFL draft pick, a very risky move. "I am an openly proud gay man," the Mizzou defensive lineman says. But can the NFL handle the first openly gay player? Maybe they should take a cue from the Missouri Tigers. Sam came out to his team members back in August, and it was a total non-issue for them. No one leaked his story; instead, they made him MVP.
Looks like Sam's generation is enlightened enough. But the older generation? The old men may need some convincing.
NFL execs seem to be dancing the "I'm not a homophobe, BUT ..." dance of homophobia. The consensus is that coming out will likely hurt Sam's chances in May's draft pick. Before, as an SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Sam was expected to be a mid- to late-round draft pick. Now? Execs blame pro football culture, especially in the locker room, for their lack of support and enthusiasm. One NFL player personnel assistant told Sports Illustrated:
I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.
"Man's-man game"?!? What the hell does that mean -- is a big, hulking, quarterback-sacking man like Sam some kind of third gender? A veteran NFL scout says:
I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down. There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier'?
Oh man, that is a sad statement on NFL culture in general. "Breaking a barrier" isn't considered a matter of pride? Pathetic. A former general manager was quoted as saying something equally craven.
That will break a tie against that player. Every time. Unless he's Superman. Why? Not that they're against gay people. It's more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, 'Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'
Why are you going to do that to yourself? Oh, I don't know. Because you want to be on the right side of history? Because you're MEN, not whiny babies? Jeebus.
In 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for Major League Baseball. The Dodgers get credit for being brave enough to break down that barrier and change the face of baseball. Who will be brave enough this time?
Sports Illustrated's take sounds pessimistic. But other NFL execs have been quoted sounding more welcoming. "He's a good player. In the end, that'll always take precedence." "I couldn't care less -- as long as he can ball," says a general manager. And ultimately, that's all that should matter.
Sam's announcement says a lot about where we are culturally. You can definitely hear the painful screech of resistance to change. But Sam's generation is clearly ready to move forward into the future. And anyway, now that DOMA has been stricken, can you think of any other profession where you can't be openly gay? Sexual orientation is becoming less of a liability -- less of an issue next to other priorities like performance.
Do you think Michael Sam's coming out will hurt his chances in the NFL draft pick? Do you think we're ready for a gay pro football player?
Image via ESPN/AP/Washington Post