I want to say that the tides of tolerance are coming to the shore of sports and helping to foster greater understanding within our greater society. I want to say that women like Brittney Griner and men like Robbie Rogers are genuinely making a difference when they openly and unashamedly live their lives freely to be themselves both within and outside of their profession.
And yet I wonder, having heard some of the things being said on both ends of the spectrum in the wake of Michael Sam’s public revelation ahead of the NFL Draft that he is a gay man. Is our society really that tolerant if this announcement suddenly becomes the catalyst for backlash? NFL executives and staff are publicly lauding the move; they are already trying to undercut his skill set and devalue his draft stock behind the cloak of anonymity.
It is laudable that Sam is willing to shoulder the load of becoming the first man to play an entire professional career, however long it might end up being for the former star defensive end at Missouri, out to the world. It is deplorable that this simple announcement will likely cost this year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year the full return on his rookie contract.
This is a reality that only he can bear, for it isn’t likely that other players are jumping out of the woodwork to reveal their own closeted homosexuality any time soon. And the way NFL types are all to happy to talk off the record, he would have to do nothing short of obliterating every number at his position at the NFL Combine to merely tread water at this point; CBS already dropped Sam SEVENTY SPOTS in their NFL draft projections the day after his announcement.
Size has been discussed as the real reason for the drop, as though suddenly a 6’2″, 260-pound guy is dainty just because he is out of the closet. Naturally, people have pointed to the fact that the vast majority of his sacks came in three games last season against mediocre offenses. None of this seemed to be a factor in the discussion about Sam’s draft status until news broke on Sunday. Suddenly his one mediocre Senior Bowl performance is an accurate indication of his long-term prospects at any NFL position.
Could he flame out as a hybrid edge linebacker/end? He certainly could… plenty of players have in the past. But NFL teams have also taken flyers on far less talented prospects before in hopes that they could successfully switch positions and enjoy a chrysalis into a completely new and dominant defender.
The thing I fear, though, is that this was not really Sam’s choice to make. At the Senior Bowl, he told ESPN and the New York Times in the initial announcement, he already seemed to be out to most of the people there:
“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”
Should a man have to fear that he would be outed? We have seen the potential ramifications of such actions, and a story where we should take pride that he wants “to own my truth” really sounds like either Sam was going to reveal that truth himself… or he was going to have it done for him. It sounds like at least one person he trusted — his own teammates — were nonchalantly talking about it to people who might or might not have cared one whit about Sam aside from writing up the scouting reports on him.
On one hand, I want to say that such nonchalance is indicative of how little a matter this was to his teammates at Missouri, and that it is hopefully indicative of the reception he would receive in the locker room of whichever NFL team brings him in. I want to say that the NFL’s franchises aren’t going to devolve into a reactionary cabal fighting progress within their sport. Instead, we’re almost certainly still at a point where it feels like what should be another step forward for sports and our society is probably going to drag Sam two steps back.