On Sunday, February 9, 2014 Michael Sam, a defensive end for the Missouri Tigers announced that he is gay. It has met with a variety of responses around the web. Overall media has been portraying a largely supportive message, commending Sam on his bravery and extolling his abilities. Michael Sam is also the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year and predicted to be a 3rd to 5th round draft pick this year. Whether or not his newfound political side will affect his draft pick is a hot topic. Just last year Jason Collins came out in the NBA and has yet to be picked up by a team. Now, Collins was entering his free agent status and picking up a player who invites so much attention is a tricky decision for any team in any sport. Did his being gay have something to do with him not getting signed? Probably, but maybe not. With Sam, however, if something like that were to happen we could be looking at a huge catastrophe for the NFL. The NFL has declared somewhat mixed messages about the defensive end, making public statements welcoming him into the NFL while certain officials comment that his sexual orientation is sure to cause issues in the locker room and may be legitimate reason for teams to pass him over. Michael Sam has demonstrated that he is a player worth having on your team; Defensive Player of the Year in arguably the toughest NCAA division is no laughing matter. Many are interested in what will happen, but due to the recent rise in players and celebrities revealing their sexual orientation, some are already jaded on the issue.
When I went on to check my various social media profiles I found a number of statuses that paraphrased were “Why is this a big deal?” “Why should I care that some college football player is gay?” Granted most of these statuses came from my non-athletically oriented friends, but that makes this all the more frustrating. It seems that the homophobia built into hyper-masculine, contact sports has become so ingrained in the culture that it isn’t recognized as homophobia anymore.
Speaking as a former football player I can attest to the homophobia innate in any locker room. Guys are taught that we cannot appreciate the beauty of another man’s body without it being gay. I cannot expound upon the beauty of Cristiano Ronaldo’s majestic gallop in the locker room without homosexual thoughts being projected onto the words I am saying. It doesn’t even need to be something that could be sexual: I remember being called gay multiple times in my locker room for showing up wearing Crocs on a hot summer day. Imagine how hard it would be to survive the locker room when everybody genuinely thinks you’re eyeing them up. I would hope that a professional locker room would be above these childish thoughts but after the recent debacle with Martin and Incognito my faith in the maturity of the NFL players has waned. Sam could indeed face steep odds when he gets drafted. Hopefully he’ll wind up in a place like New England where the value of the team overrides any petty issues like sexual preference, but who knows what the teams are going to do. I wish Michael Sam the best of luck in his professional career and hope he proves to the world that there is more than one way to be a great football player.