When a friend texted me Sunday evening that Michael Sam had publicly come out, my first thought was “good for him.” How strange, right? Applauding somebody for acknowledging who they really are. It’s like complimenting Yao Ming for being tall, or James Earl Jones for having a deep voice.
But such is the convoluted world of professional football, where a person’s sexuality doesn’t matter (as long as you’re a heterosexual or a homosexual who lives in the closet). So we cheer when a person is actually honest and doesn’t have to hide. “Good for you, Mike. You are you. Now the world knows you are yourself, and won’t try to expose you for being how you are.”
Two discussion points jump out from Sam’s announcement (you know, other than the fact that, gasp, a gay man is good at football): timing and draft status.
The timing, though expedited due to a hungry media, was perfect. With the Winter Olympics taking a global stage, Sam will not dominate the headlines as he would during a slower news cycle. He controlled his own story, prevented it from being a distraction (stay tuned, this word will come up again) from his team’s impressive 12-2 season, and came out during one of the handful of weeks where the NFL doesn’t have a stranglehold on the media (Rings > Shield). Sam, his publicist, and their entire team handled the matter extremely well.
As for his draft stock: it’s going to fall. Sports Illustrated interviewed anonymous team officials who acknowledged as much. Let’s examine the quotes from Pete Thamel’s article and see just why a gay player will earn less than a straight man in the league. After all, that’s all draft position is: money – No. 1 and No. 151 both make the team, they just get paid significantly different wages.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
So football is ready for drunks, drug addicts, dog killers, human killers, pedophiles, and misogynists – just not gays.
Are we naive enough to believe that Sam never heard somebody say “fag” while at Mizzou? Use of a slur doesn’t constitute intent. Richie Incognito ran around calling teammates “nigga” and “ninja” and seemingly every black teammate not named Jonathan Martin stuck up for him, saying he was far from racist.
“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?'”
I bet the Dodgers regret that whole Jackie Robinson situation every single day.
“That will break a tie against that player,” the former general manager said. “Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'”
This is the league that mandates players and coaches to perform post-game interviews. The league that holds a clown show called “Super Bowl Media Day.” A league with Rex Ryan, Richard Sherman, Jim Harbaugh, and Steve Smith. The NFL loves exposure. Players wear pink during the month of October in the name of “awareness,” for god’s sake. Which, FYI, has been covered by Good Housekeeping.
“You’re going to have to have one confident general manager or head coach that is certainly entrenched in his position and established to draft a player like that,” the assistant personnel director said. “It’s one thing to have Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo, advocates for gay rights, on your team. It’s another to have a current confirmed player.”
You’re telling me that a team would rather have players who draw attention to themselves than one with no intent to be an activist? What a crock.
From the talk of these league officials, you’d be inclined to believe that a team of 18-24-year-old college players is more mature than an entire NFL franchise. If this is true, then it’s disgusting to think that the most powerful sports league in the world can be so myopic.
Michael Sam is old enough to handle himself, and his future teammates are a bunch of grown-ass men. If there is a clubhouse issue, they’ll figure it out. It’s time to take the kid gloves off. Let’s start treating these men like adults. Who knows, it just may work.