Mike Foster (Sports Director)
Michael Sam’s teammates at the University of Missouri knew he was gay since before the 2013 season. According to a report by ESPN writer Chris Connelly, Sam told the other men in the locker room about his sexuality in August. In the interview with Connelly, Sam is quoted as saying, “I understand how big this is. It’s a big deal. No one has done this before.”
Is it really, though?
Sam went on to have a stellar senior year. He finished with 11.5 sacks at defensive end, and helped the Tigers build the reputation of having the fiercest defensive front in the Southeastern Conference. He reeled in All-SEC and eventually All-American status for his efforts.
Again–his teammates knew of his sexuality. Was there ever a peep?
Suddenly the debate has begun whether or not Sam’s public announcement that he’s a homosexual will effect his value in April’s NFL Draft. For Sam, the fact that his entire team–which climbed all the way to No. 5 in the BCS rankings (in other words, was very functional)–went on for an entire year as if it was just another day at the office should prove to NFL executives, general managers, coaches and players that the sexuality of the men in the locker room does not have to be a big deal.
Football is football, and Sam is pretty darn good at it. Sam, a bright and charismatic individual to boot, also can shine light on this issue (which should be a non-issue) by helping phase out the stigma that surrounds homosexuality. Had he never said anything, the media would have never known the difference.
When people feel like they can simply pick out and identify homosexuals, the more stigma can be attached. But, when someone who otherwise fits the identity of a bonafide NFL Draft prospect suddenly says, “Hey, I’m gay,” it simplifies the meaning–in a good way.
Sam’s announcement of his sexuality is huge. Before, not a single NFL player had ever announced themselves as gay before their retirement. Because of this, many have speculated that announcements of homosexuality could be detrimental to locker rooms.
Missouri’s football team proved to us that it can be a non-issue, as it should be. Not only Sam, but the entire Missouri football team deserves a tip of the cap for dwindling down Sam’s sexuality to what it’s worth–something that is personal, and something that should only be shared through respect and understanding.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel endorsed Sam’s decision by saying, “We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents Mizzou.”
Anyone calling shots for NFL teams now have an entire college football team to ask, “Is this guy going to cause any problems?” That team’s general consensus is, “No.” That’s a refreshing prospect to say the least.
Homosexuals have to deal with acceptance issues in all work places, and the NFL should view it no differently. To assert that executives and general managers would stray away from a prospect because of their sexuality is to categorize the decision makers as behind the curve. I’m not sure they want that on their plate.
This is truly a story that transcends sports because of Sam’s courage, but it’s also a landmark story for sports, internally.
Sam’s athletic identity is no different now than it was before. When he participates in combine drills, his sexuality will not be measured in any way, shape, or form.
As someone who has potential to be a star in the greatest sports league that has ever existed, Sam’s bright future with the NFL could teach us all what Missouri players learned firsthand this past year: It’s not a big deal.