Michael Sam in the NFL
Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player? It should come as no surprise to people that we are still dealing with forms of discrimination in our daily lives. Of course, then, it should come as no surprise that we still see discrimination in sports. Racism and sexism have long been a problem in sports, but those problems have been faced head on with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, and Billie Jean King’s victory in the Battle of the Sexes. Now it’s time for the issue of discrimination against sexual orientation in sports to be faced head on. Michael Sam, an NFL Draft prospect and SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri, is certainly not the first gay professional athlete, and definitely not the first in the NFL. He is, however, the first openly gay active athlete in a major sport. He will be subject to the similar taunts and discrimination that athlete’s like Robinson and King faced when they were changing sports, and that athletes still face today, but he will find that his supporters far outnumber his adversaries.
There’s an idea that Michael Sam somehow isn’t man enough to play in the NFL. Dallas reporter Dale Hansen did a great job of putting that foolish idea on the back burner for the bigots who actually believed that this was true. But what makes a man isn’t his sexual orientation, it’s his character. Sam has the guts to do what the NFL’s culture has made it hard to do, which is be himself. Him being gay shouldn’t mean anything to his teammates, opponents, fans, the organization he plays for, what matters is your production on the field, and the person you are off of it. Michael Sam has shown nothing that would say he isn’t capable of being productive on the field, or an exemplary person on the sidelines.
As I mentioned before, there have been several gay athletes in sports, including the NFL, for a long time. Some haven’t even come out, while others have after they have retired. A gay man is nothing new to an NFL locker room. So when I hear someone like former New Orleans Saints linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, say “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?” (via Huffington Post) I respond by saying you would respond the same way you would to seeing a straight man. Just because a man is gay, doesn’t mean you are desirable to him, the same way that a straight man isn’t desirable to all straight women. We’ve all been in a locker room before, they are filled with naked men and women respectively. You are bound to look around and see someone naked, that doesn’t mean you are checking them out. Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player? It doesn’t matter if the league is ready, because it’s happening. The second Michael Sam goes out on the field and makes a big play, he’ll just be one of the guys. Michael Sam has shown, throughout his life, the same toughness that Jackie Robinson exhibited when he was tearing down the color barrier. If we wait for the league to be ready, we are doing a disservice to the gay athletes who have already been oppressed for some time. I have no doubts that Michael Sam can fit into an NFL locker room, and hopefully help to improve its culture.