Upon hearing University of Missouri football player and NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announce publicly that he’s gay Sunday, I had conflicted reactions.
The first was celebratory. Sam, an All-American defensive linemen, was voted the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season and is projected to be a mid-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. Unlike basketball player Jason Collins, who came out last year at the tail end of his NBA career and unfortunately remains a free agent, Sam will almost definitely be employed and playing in a top North American professional sports league this year. So his landmark announcement is victory for progress in sports.
My secondary reaction was a bit more complicated, musing that in this day and age someone’s sexuality shouldn’t really be news. Whether gay or straight, in 2014 it shouldn’t matter, right? These sort of personal things shouldn’t matter, as they didn’t matter to Sam’s Missouri teammates and coach, to whom he came out to last August. However, it was still news that garnered coverage from sporting and non-sporting media outlets alike.
I would’ve had a much longer post on the topic, but Grantland.com’s Holly Anderson – thankfully – encapsulated my thoughts exactly in her own reflection, which is well worth reading in full. Though we both hesitated to make a big deal of Sam’s announcement, celebration of his courage is well due:
“…society needs people like him to help get everybody to that point of casual acceptance. Some future generation will know how big a deal this kind of thing could be only from reading American history…
“On a long enough timeline, Sam will be just the first in a long series of openly gay men to play in the NFL, but saying “just” doesn’t diminish the courage he displayed here. Saying “just” is a look toward that future, where none of this makes the news — where teams’ attitudes toward guys like Sam are in line with those of the guys who played alongside him at Mizzou.”
But above all, it’s a victory for Michael Sam. He has already endured an incredibly tough upbringing, as he told ESPN:
“I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him … my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since 8th grade, currently both in jail.
“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that.”
Coming out for Sam was easy, as it should be for everyone, and his announcement brings us that much closer to the point where it is for all gay athletes. So while Sam’s sexuality is not a big deal, his announcement is. On top of all his accomplishments and triumphs, Sam’s courage is rightfully worth celebrating. Good for him, and good for sports.