Michael Sam: Game Changer

Op-ed:

6’2”, 261 pounds of lean muscle; a career of sacking quarterbacks and making plays. A consensus All-American and the Co-Defensive Player of the year in Americas hardest college football conference, the SEC. A proven athlete, leader and student. A sure selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.

A gay man, who very well could become the first ever openly gay NFL player.

If an athlete has the talent, the work ethic, and the character to play, why should his sexual orientation matter in giving the individual a chance? Michael Sam came out publicly via an interview with ESPN on February 9th. The timing of the announcement was crucial because the NFL combine was less than a month away. This gave teams insight on him before interviewing and starting the draft process. But, at the same time, it was a tough time for Sam to do so.

In October of the 2013 NFL season, reports surfaced about locker room incidents surrounding the Miami Dolphins. Offensive Tackle Jonathan Martin had left the team due to “personal reasons”. It was then learned and reported that Martin was being bullied by a fellow teammate, Richie Incognito, an eight year veteran who has often been trouble with the league and the law. Text messages were released showing Incognito using profanity, racist terms, and homophobic slurs against Martin. The NFL went into an investigation.

Less than a week after Michael Sam had come out, Ted Wells, the lawyer appointed by the NFL to heads the Martin/Incognito investigation had come out with his report. It was concluded that several other members of the team had harassed Martin, along with an assistant trainer. So, the question came up; is the NFL and its locker rooms ready for homosexual players?

At the University of Missouri, Sam had already told his head coach and teammates that he was gay and also asked them not to say anything. Sam, along with the rest of the football team, had great seasons; he being the Co-SEC defensive player of the year and they being 12-2 overall and Cotton Bowl Champions. The bigger fact? There were ZERO incidents with Sam and his teammates and no one said a word about it. If young adults, ages 18-24, could keep quiet and be respectable/reliable teammates about this, why can’t 22-40 year old NFL players do so?

Though, locker room conduct is in question about this topic; so is the constant questioning of the media and possible bias’ about Sam through NFL General Managers.

“I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” said Sam in an interview session during the NFL combine.  He also said the following quote when asked about going into an environment like the Dolphins:

“I’m not afraid about going into that (kind of) environment… I know how to handle myself, I know how to communicate with my teammates, and I know how to communicate with the coaches and the staff — whomever I need to communicate with.”

New York Giants General Manager Jerry Reese was very vocal about this situation regarding Sam, saying in repeated interviews that “What people do in their personal life, I’m not concerned about that,” and “I think he’s a good football player.”

Many big time NFL players and celebrities among other had given kudos to Sam. It truly does take a lot of courage to do what he has done and will continue to do. He, a lot like Jason Collins, the first NBA player to be publicly gay, has been looked at as revolutionists in the gay community. Collins became the first gay NBA player to play in an NBA game last week. Will Sam be the first in the NFL?

If the man can play and contribute, there is no doubt in my mind he should get his opportunity. It would be a shame if NFL GMs and other officials looked passed him solely on his sexual preference. It would be an even bigger shame if grown men in the NFL couldn’t accept Sam as their teammate. If Jackie Robinson cold break the baseball color barrier in a time of extreme racism, there is no doubt in my mind Michael Sam can break the homosexuality barrier in the NFL.

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