Even though this secret has been swarming for months, Missouri defensive player, Michael Sam, made sure that when he looks for work in the NFL, a few months from now, there are no closet doors shut in regards to the fact he’s an openly gay man.
What happens next in the real world, and the reaction that’s certainly set a change in thinking from football fans all over the world, will go a long way towards how far the NFL decides to openly embrace someone like Sam. Because he’s about to endure as much respect as disrespect from some within the American culture that’s sadly still caught in the cross hairs on the entire gay issue.
Even though I love politics this issue can’t be played out in the public domain or in the sports pages. It has to be dealt with in the one place that will ultimately decide the fate of openly gay men playing professional football, the NFL locker room.
For Sam, it worked at the University of Missouri where he told his teammates before the start of the season of the secret that only a select few had known about him. What happened next was something that likely gave Sam the confidence to share his honesty with the rest of the football community.
Before I go into my take let’s be clear, Sam is hardly the first gay man to play football in the NFL.
As early as the 1960’s, there were rumblings of a gay man playing for the Green Bay Packers by the name of Ray McDonald. Putting it strongly, then Head Coach Vince Lombardi, made it clear in his locker room no player is going to judge another.
"And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you'll be out of here before your ass hits the ground."
Though McDonald was a back-up player for Lombardi; he stood by his player and reminded the rest of the team the importance the sum of the word teammate is far more important than anything or anyone else.
Still it should be noted back then our country was already confused with the 60’s movement. However, Lombardi was the exception not the rule.
To that light, there are some similarities between Sam and the plights of African American players who found it tough to play in the rigid minded NFL. When the AFL began operations in the 60’s they opened up their league to all races. All they cared about was if the players had enough talent to help the young upstart develop into real competition for the staunch and ego-filled NFL.
So how have we done the last five decades since the merger of the AFL and NFL? I don’t think anyone cares about race – at least not publicly within a locker room.
Yet in today’s NFL, there are still enough Archie Bunker types in the crowd, to make even the most confident African American football player, be reminded on occasion, the NFL came long before the acceptance that all players could co-exist in the locker room.
We think how far we’ve come as a society but when some willowing football types, who have offered opinions on Sam’s draft status, since his comments last Sunday, won’t even put a name behind their comments stating he won’t be welcomed in the NFL or his draft status will fall, infuriates me and I have to call them out as simply ignorant and classless.
So why can’t the overall majority judge Sam for his ability to play football at the next level. After all, though some argue he’s a situational pass rusher, he’s one of the best defensive players available in the upcoming NFL Draft?
What he does within the confines of his personal life should not affect some of these faceless executives for thinking he’ll go from a second round talent (before his omission) to a player that may not be drafted at all. What gives them the right to judge Sam?
If that were the case, I could argue about one-third of the players that make up the NFL, should never have been drafted either.
The NCAA looks the other way when the college athletes they exploit for billions of dollars in revenues, slide out of universities and onto NFL rosters, when they can’t read, or further when they don’t even attend classes. Making matters worse some of them drive expenses cars and have the finest clothes to wear in private or public.
Then for their part, the NFL allows college players entrance into the league when they’ve received extra cash benefits in college or worse committed silly crimes, had drug related arrests or worse fail to do proper background checks revealing strong flaws in their characters that follow them to the NFL costing owners millions of dollars.
Sam didn’t do any of that. All he did was choose to be honest and share his story to the world. How refreshing is that?
So it begs the question, why should any NFL team, look the other way in regards to Sam based on his choice to be a proud gay man?
For a team like the Chiefs, you’d have to think, the fact Sam played collegiate ball down I-70 at the University of Missouri, they’d give him strong consideration for his merits on the field of battle.
On the flip side, I have to believe the Chiefs organization with its hardcore Midwest values in tact, would also valiantly respect the Bulls-eye Michael Sam put on his back.
The fact he decided to come out of the shadows after word spread at the Senior Bowl about what he told his teammates at Missouri last August, when he decided to be honest with all of the 32 future owners who may hire him to play football in 2014 and beyond.
Sadly for some NFL franchises, that still live in the dark ages, they won’t give Sam enough consideration and might remove his talents (if they haven’t done so already) from their respective draft boards.
I can make a thousand more points of light about this topic. However, no matter what I say or the culture I live in - ultimately Sam will be accepted or chastised in an NFL locker room near you.
In the decades since we learned of Ray McDonald, there have been closeted gay men playing football in virtually every locker room in the country including Kansas City.
To date, very few have come out of the shadows to admit they were openly gay until their careers had ended. Others to this day, who played in the NFL, have kept their secret hidden from the world. I hope within Sam’s courage more of them come out to divulge the secrets they needed to hide from their teammates.
If you are to believe that Sam represents is similar to the plight of the barrier broken by the late, Jackie Robinson in Baseball, it’s important others follow Sam’s lead.
Until recently, when organizations learned of these cases (sad I have to put it as if they had a disease), the locker room culture in the NFL would not support the potential distraction of a player going public about his sexual orientation. So to fix the problem, some were either cut or shunned from NFL locker rooms.
You’d have to think in 2014, that we as Americans first and Football Fans second, would accept Sam into the NFL with open arms. Since he’s announcement many have come to his defense and offered up their support for his open admission.
Still those words may be meaningless today if Sam isn’t drafted in May.
I hope I’m wrong in regards to my bordering pessimism that the NFL is ready for a Proud Gay man to play professional football. Because in my book any person that’s willing to put themselves under this much potential scrutiny, I want in my locker room and in my defensive huddle with the game on the line.
If Sam can withstand the arrogance and immaturity of the righteous few that will say the most horrific things in the field of battle and in the stands, you have to think that’s going to make him more willing to prove to everyone, straight or gay, he can do the one thing NFL scouts believe he could do before his admission - sack opposing NFL quarterbacks.
So let’s put this issue in NFL terms.
If the Chiefs draft Michael Sam in May, and he comes off the bench, sacks Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning, on the final play of the game, sealing a victory that catapults the Chiefs to the top of the AFC West or even further a Super Bowl birth, will anyone care about the fact he’s a proud, African-American gay man?
I think not.
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Will the Chiefs judge MIchael Sam on his overall abilities?.
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