Coach’s Corner: Michael Sam Is Better Than You

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.

Coach’s Corners: Top 5 Reasons Football Builds Character

With all of this talk lately about football being too dangerous, and those who play being entitled, spoiled athletes who’ve been coddled simply because they can throw a football, I thought I’d talk about one of the positives of the sport.  The fact is most kids who play football don’t make it any further than high school. The game itself is under more scrutiny than ever because of the potential for head injuries, yet football continues to be America’s favorite sport.  Why?  Well at the college and pro level, it’s pretty obvious that the aggressive, fast paced nature of the sport has something to do with it. But what makes younger kids play? What makes parents allow their kids to play such a potentially dangerous and heavily scrutinized sport?  I think there’s a pretty obvious reason that doesn’t get a lot of attention. It’s because the sport helps to build character.  Now listen, l think all can help build character, particularly team sports. In my opinion though, there are a few things that make football different.  Here are my top 5 reasons that football helps builds character:

1. The Time Of Year The Game Is Played

For kids, football is played at about the most difficult time imaginable.  The beginning of the school year. As kids try to transition to at minimum a new grade and sometimes a new school, they are also tasked with the pressure of two or three a day practices usually in extreme heat along with the stress of academics at the beginning of the school year. Let me be clear, football is A LOT tougher to play in extreme heat than in cold weather, particularly practices. Simply getting through camp for two weeks before the first game is something most kids couldn’t manage comfortably.

2. The Competition

Football teams have more players per team than any other team sport as well as having the shortest season.  This usually means intense competition for playing time.  When kids are in direct, physical competition on a daily basis, it can lead to some pretty uncomfortable moments like ending up on your back in the middle of the field after being run over by one of your friends.  And…it also hurts. Just getting off the ground is always a challenge. Then, when the positions are filled and you’re one of the starters, you have to play well in games and in practice to keep your spot.  When you aren’t a starter, you have to continue to practice hard without the promise of ever playing.  You’re competing in a very physical manner, against a lot of guys, with a limited amount of games.  Stress.

3. The Structure

Individually, you knock down your teammate in practice. Then you get knocked down by your teammate in practice. Rinse, repeat. In one on one drills and in scrimmages.  No fighting, no anger…for the most part, just focus.

As a team, think about it.  22 kids attacking each other aggressively for about 8 seconds at a time. After each play, a whistle blows, the kids stop and go back to the huddle.  They calm down quickly, get specific instructions and go back for the next 8 seconds of aggression.  Repeat about 100-120 times per game.  Think about it.

4. The Discipline

You ever try to get 85 kids to be good students, to come to practice everyday, to get along with each other and to perform football related tasks, in sync, that admittedly I don’t completely understand.  Ok then.

5. The Tangible Intangibles

A couple of scenarios. 

  • The quarterback throws a pass to his star receiver to win the game. The 2 get mobbed and walk off like heroes. The real heroes may be the offensive line, who made sure that play was executed by providing perfect pass protection. The offensive line receives very little attention for this but are always willing to do it.  That requires something.
  • That certain kid who hasn’t played a meaningful down in a game, but never misses a practice and always finishes in front in conditioning drills. He does his best in practice everyday to prepare his team for the upcoming game even though he knows he’ll likely not play. He never quits the team although most kids would under those circumstances.  There is one kid like that on every team, every year. 

 

These are my top 5. I can’t promise you that these character builders will get your kids to the NFL, but I can promise that they will prepare them for a better life.