First-team all-American University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam officially came out today. According to Sam, who told his teammates that he was gay at the beginning of last season, he had the sense that his sexual orientation was about to made public, and decided that he’d rather do it himself, on his own terms, than wait for the inevitable. NFL scouts, it would seem, were beginning to ask questions. According to the New York Times, “At a showcase game for college seniors last month, several scouts asked Mr. Sam’s agent, Joe Barkett, questions about whether Mr. Sam had a girlfriend or whether Mr. Barkett had seen him with women.”
I’m sure that you can find better analysis elsewhere, as I know very little about gay culture, and even less about football, but I did want to weigh in with a few thoughts.
1. There seems to be a sense that, if an NLF team were to sign a gay player, the world would end… that it would destroy the cohesiveness of the team, and lead to mayhem on the playing field. It’s worth noting, I think, that Sam, despite being out to his teammates all of last season, was able to help lead them to a Cotton Bowl victory, and a 12-win season. More importantly, he was voted Missouri’s most valuable player by his teammates that same season. So homosexuality doesn’t kill teams. Which isn’t to say, of course, that the presence of the league’s first openly gay player might not be a bit of a distraction for the team that signed him. I suspect, however, that this challenge would be surmountable… especially if the team is winning. In fact, his presence may even bring new fans to the sport. (note: Jackie Robinson didn’t kill baseball.)
2. I’m hesitant to check, but I’m curious as to how today’s news might be greeted by odds-makers in Vegas. I wonder if people are making bets as to whether Sam, who had been considered a top draft pick, may now go undrafted. If he does go undrafted, I say we petition the Football Commissioner to grant another franchise, and begin crowd funding to start an all-gay team. (How awesome would that be?)
3. It’s a fucking shame that this kid is having to do this. You just know that there are dozens of gay players in the NFL, and one of them should have had the guts to come out before now. Instead, we’ve got this 24 year old young man having to risk his entire future. One would hope that, now that Sam has come out, others might step up and join him. I’m not incredibly hopeful, but I’d love to wake up and read tomorrow morning that three more players, moved by Sam’s announcement, had come forward.
4. Regardless of whatever happens next, today’s announcement has already had an incredibly positive effect on the nation. This isn’t just about the NFL. This is about young people across the United States, how they perceive of themselves, and how they both see and treat others.
5. I feel sorry for the athletes competing in the Olympics right now. In the wake of Sam’s announcement, I can almost guarantee that no one will be discussing their accomplishments.
update: The best commentary I’ve seen on this issue thus far has come from Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen. You need to watch it.