College Football standout and NFL Draft prospect Michael Sam has come forward and announced that he is gay. There have been such announcements from athletes before, but never in such circumstances. There was Jason Collins who announced his homosexuality through a self-written “coming out letter”, per se, in Sports Illustrated this summer. Collins was to become a free agent when he came out, but an NBA team has yet to sign him to this point in time. An argument could be made for homophobia, but Collins was on his way out of basketball anyways as he was well out of his prime. There has yet to be an openly gay athlete in the “core four” professional sports leagues in the United States.
That could all change with Michael Sam.
Sam received First Team All-American honors this past year, and won Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC, arguably the most competitive conference in all of college football. Before he announced he was gay, he was projected to be a second or third day draftee, but all bets are off at this point in time. Many argue, myself included, that his announcement of being gay prior to the draft will hurt his draft stock as the NFL just may not be ready to accept such controversy. Then again, things could stay the same, as they should be, since Sam is a legitimate NFL prospect. There also may be a team that may want to make a statement by rewarding Sam for his courageous stand by awarding him with a high draft pick within the first two or three rounds. One thing that I can almost confirm myself is that with this announcement, he has shut the door on some teams that may have been interested in him.
But the potential of Michael Sam being the first openly gay football player goes far beyond the NFL.
This audacious stand by Michael Sam, coming only three months before the 2014 NFL Draft, could have magnitude equivalent to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, the nation’s most popular sport at the time. With football now arguably being America’s national pastime, Sam now has the potential to be an advocate for LGBT community to be involved in professional sports and not be ashamed of who they are. While there are differences between the two situations, with Robinson’s case being that African-Americans were prohibited from playing, while there are no such restrictions with homosexuals in sports now, it is still the type of groundbreaking moment that could encourage a slew of athletes to come out of the closet, as well as give aspiring athletes the security than they can make it in the pros without being bullied or harassed.
While I commend Michael Sam for being so brave as to come out as gay before his professional career even began, I do have to profess my skepticism for what may come of his actions. I personally do not think the NFL, a league of “macho men” and players who have announced their homophobia, is ready for such a controversy as accepting an openly homosexual player into the league. Although, I do wish Sam the best in the journey he is about to face as a barrier breaker and an advocate. The NFL could be the biggest stage for such an unprecedented barrier breaking.
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