In a recent public interview Missouri Tigers All-American defensive end Michael Sam announced that he is gay. Yes, an SEC football player who most certainly will be drafted in the upcoming NFL Draft, announced that he is gay. There is no question that this announcement was an historical event in the annals of sport and it is being recognized as that by media outlets all over the country. It took tremendous courage for Sam to come out as a probable NFL roster guy and it will mark the first time that an active NFL player has come out while participating in what is probably the most homophobic of the major sports. Football is homophobic and it defends itself regularly. The locker room is usually football’s biggest defense of its homophobia because of that good old ambiguous term, chemistry. The common thought has always been that NFL locker room chemistry could never survive the presence of a gay teammate. It just couldn’t work. Nevermind the fact that several former NFL players have come out after their careers were over. None of them had any locker room problems. None of them attacked a straight teammate. No reports of harrassment towards a straight teammate. Nothing. Just football. Nevermind the fact that women’s locker rooms have gay and straight players. Always have. It works just fine in women’s sports. But of course, that’s different. So because of this, Michael Sam’s announcement was most definitely historic and courageous and that makes him a very special guy based on what he is about to encounter on his NFL journey. To me he is not only special, but he is also better than you (and me) and here are five reasons why:
1. He is Black
Black men are notorious homophobes. You know it and I know it. I don’t really know why, but I do know that as a black man, Michael Sam has to be very strong mentally to have juggled his conflicting lives as a gay man and a football player. Under that pressure, he excelled.
2. He is from Texas
Texas is the football capital of America. Friday Night Lights. Playing the ultimate tough guy sport in the ultimate tough guy state. I don’t know if people where he’s from knew that Michael Sam is gay, but either way that had to be tough. Could you do it?
3. He told his Missouri teammates
Not only did Michael Sam tell his University of Missouri coaches and teammates that he was gay, but he also told them it wasn’t a secret. Knowing all the trouble that gay people have in this country and in that sport he trusted a large group of people, most of them young, in this time of social media, with life changing information. That is, in a word, special. He trusted that his teammates would protect the information and respect his privacy and they did. And he protected them.
4. He is going to the league
The NFL Combine. Check. Individual team workouts. Check. Prodays. Check. Team interviews. Check. Now add all of the media scrutiny certain to follow Michael Sam to each one of these events. The pressure from advocacy groups to represent them. The anti gay groups protesting at every turn. The things he knows other players will be thinking when he shows up. And that’s before he even makes a team. Then it will really get tough. He knows it. And he choose to do it anyway.
5. He played in the SEC
This one has nothing to do with Michael Sam being gay. He is 6’2″ and 260lbs. He was a first team All-American, co SEC Defensive Player of the Year and he led the league with 11 1/2 sacks. He led his Missouri team to a 12-2 record and a Cotton Bowl victory. He will be drafted and he will likely be on an NFL roster next football season.
Michael Sam is a very good football player and he is better than you. And…he is gay.