On Sunday, February 9, 2014, Missouri defensive end, Michael Sam, made history. He announced publicly that he is gay, becoming the most prominent active athlete to do so and sending sparks of speculation about his potential NFL career shooting across the sports media (Gregorian 1).
The SEC, considered to have some of the roughest defensive players, named Sam the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year for the Southeastern Conference.
Amazingly enough, Sam’s public announcement was no surprise to his teammates, coaches or others who know him well on campus. He came out to them, and the knowledge of his personal life was known, but media outlets, including, The Kansas City Star, chose to respect Sam’s personal privacy and not discuss it publicly (Gregorian 1).
Sam’s decision to come out occurred at a time when he was willing to announce to ESPN and, The New York Times, as to who he is. “’Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was,’ Sam told, The Times. ‘I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I didn’t care who knew’” (Gregorian 1).
Sam’s choice to become public, while daring, courageous and risky at the collegiate level, he could make NFL history. He is projected as a third-or-fourth-round NFL pick, Sam is will definitely be in the mix this April come the NFL Draft. More importantly, while he may be targeted by some groups full of hatred and intolerance, he has taken a huge step for the rights of young people who are gay or who are questioning their own sexual orientation. They will have someone to look up toward and respect while they may be enduring bullying or bigotry for being different (Gregorian 1).
Sam definitely has an uphill battle in front of him: NBA player, Jason Collins, announced his homosexuality, but it was late in his NBA career. He received much public support including encouragement from former tennis star Martina Navratilova. It has been 32 years since she came out as a lesbian, but she understands that a stigma still exists.
Ultimately, she sees the act of any professional or well-known athlete as coming out as an act of saving lives. Navratilova stated, “There is some kid out there who is not going to commit suicide because Jason [Collins] is out” (Gregorian 2).
As for Sam’s future in the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a meeting with sports editors in New York last year, “Our policy is not one of just tolerance but acceptance” (Gregorian 2). Whether or not that philosophy will stand up can only be tested by time and experience.
Sam’s bravery to stand up for his own reality will be the real test as to whether or not the NFL can support an openly gay athlete. All the ‘shoulds’ in the world tell humane, loving people that this athlete ‘should’ be able to play. Unfortunately, “Shoulds” do not always happen. It is up to us human beings to achieve the ‘shoulds’.