Mizzou Star Steps Out of the Closet and Into the NFL Draft
We live in a world of firsts. Maybe it’s because of social media, maybe just mass media in general, but we seem to find out everything about everybody within minutes. Walls seem to come down all the time and most of the time it causes a little ripple not the tsunami many expect. Now we’ve found out that the NFL will soon have its first openly gay player. Michael Sam is an All-American defensive end from Missouri, he led the SEC in sacks with 11.5 last season, with 19 tackles for a loss and was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC. He’s also gay.
The irony of this is that he came out to his Missouri teammates and coaches before last season began. How in today’s gossip-filled world, that revelation was able to stay within the Tigers locker room is amazing. Sam is eligible for the NFL draft this spring and most NFL experts expect him to go somewhere around the third round. That would make him the first openly gay player in the NFL. Most people have suspected that there have been many gay players in all major team sports for years, but no one in the ultra-macho world of the NFL has come out while they were still playing.
It’s admirable for Sam to do so before he is drafted. Keeping his secret to himself might have been prudent, in that environment, but he didn’t care. He says he’s proud of who he is. The truth is life as an openly gay player in the NFL won’t be easy. Most survey’s of current players say that while they suspect there are gay players in the league, many wouldn’t want a gay player on their team. Whichever team drafts Sam will be making a much bigger statement than just how he’ll fit into their defensive scheme. Media attention will be overwhelming.
Sam grew up in Hitchcock Texas and has seen more than his share of personal angst. An older brother was shot to death, another disappeared in 1998, an older sister died before he was born and two older brothers have been in and out of prison since 8th grade. Maybe because of all that, announcing you’re sexual orientation seems like a minor thing. But in the NFL, with the old-school attitudes that permeate, life won’t be a cake walk for Sam. Fans from visiting teams, if not his own, will scream vulgar things and hold up nasty signs. Some teammates may not want to shower with him. Richard Sherman showed during the playoffs and Super Bowl that the NFL is filled with trash talking. Getting into a players head is part of the game. They will use whatever works, don’t for a minute think a player won’t bring up Sam’s gay identity to get under his skin.
How he handles it will be headline news because he won’t just be standing up for himself, he now has a whole community around him that will watch his every move. As if making it in the NFL isn’t already tough enough, Michael Sam will be under the brightest of spotlights but he seems more than willing to tackle any adversity, head on.