If any of you think that Michael Sam will be the first gay professional football player then I have some ocean front property in Nebraska for you. There have been many gay players in the National Football League in the past but only a couple have come forward and did so only after their playing days were through.
The chances are also strong that there are a handful of gay players on active NFL rosters as I type. Sadly, they are unwilling to come forward and I say “sadly” because they shouldn’t have to hide.
Michael Sam will ultimately be remembered as a ground-breaker. Will he go down in history in the same discussion as a Jackie Robinson? I really can’t say just yet because we must let history run its’ course. What we do know is that one of the 32 NFL franchises will draft Sam and if they don’t because of this then shame on them.
Prior to his announcement on Sunday that he was in fact a gay man playing football, Sam was projected to be drafted anywhere from the third through the sixth round of the NFL Draft in May. He is not just ‘another player’ either. This is a guy who won the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year Award and helped lead his team to a fantastic season.
At 6’2″ and about 255 lbs., Sam is what we would call a “tweener.” He might be too small to play defensive end in the NFL and he might be too big to play on the outside as a linebacker as teams continue to look for more and more speed. Because we don’t have a crystal ball, there’s no way of telling where Sam would have been drafted prior to his announcement so all we have our projections.
Should he go undrafted, which isn’t likely, he then be able to sign a free agent contract with whatever team he chooses among those that want to sign him. He will be attending the NFL Combine later this month and much like Manti Te’o last year, there is no question the media attention will be on him greater than any other player.
Sam was incredibly honest during his interview on ESPN as he talked about the hardships growing up that included a brother lost to gun violence and two others in jail. He viewed his coming out as easier than what he’s had to deal with in the past. Perhaps this will serve him well because there will be rocky roads ahead.
An NFL locker room has very little if any, filter. It’s commonplace for guys to rip on each other for just about anything and I find it hard to believe that Sam won’t face this at some point in his career. Still, I think he’ll find the team and organization he plays for more welcoming than some of the fans he will come across. Hatred does not discriminate. It will come from young and old, black and white, and male and female but I believe Sam is prepared for it.
It is my hope that someday we will no longer worry about the color of a player’s skin or his sexual orientation. Like Michael Sam, I hope the focus is not on anything other than what a player can do on the field of play rather than off of it. This is young man who just wants to play football and be part of a team that has success. His orientation should have nothing to do with it.