There will come a day when an athlete announcing he’s gay won’t make the needle on the wow-meter budge. Until that time arrives however, the news of Michael Sam coming out as gay to The New York Times is causing that very same needle to go bonkers.
His unprecedented, yet courageous step may result in him being the first active gay player in the NFL. What Sam did on Sunday night was not just open the door for other football players in his same position. He busted it wide open causing the hinges to come flying off. Turns out the secret he shared with the world wasn’t a secret at all at Missouri. It was well-known for quite some time, which speaks to an environment filled with humanity, sensitivity and understanding. His teammates clearly didn’t mind nor did they care, unless someone comes forward and says otherwise.
Sam is a very good football player. So good, in fact, he was named the Defensive Player of the Year in arguably college football’s toughest conference, the SEC. Sam is projected to be a mid-round draft pick in April’s NFL draft. By making this announcement, Sam is sending a message of refreshing candor to talent evaluators and general managers around the league: This is who I am. I have nothing to hide.
Since absorbing the news, social media exploded with mostly encouraging words from other NFL players and fellow athletes. This is not to say that the journey will be easy for Michael Sam. No, not by a long shot. It will be a trek dotted by sign posts of intolerance in a testosterone driven environment. That’s the harsh reality. The feedback that Peter King of SI.com got from anonymous GMs serves as a reminder. Some supported Sam’s move, while others thought it would be too much of a distraction. Sam is not naive. He absolutely knows the implications that accompany his announcement. Sam will need to be drafted by a team appreciative of his talent, possessing strong, veteran leadership that won’t see this as a big deal. The day can’t come soon enough when this is nothing more than a footnote. An expected reality that is a total non-story.