by Chris McGlynn
Missouri senior defensive end Michael Sam was like any other NFL prospect going through the pre-draft process until he he came out gay. Sam will likely become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
However, the NFL seems to be averse to change. Many unnamed NFL executives have already raised concerns about having a gay player in the locker room. This issue is bound to raise plenty of controversy but none of it is at all warranted.
The NFL is full of players who have attention-drawing backgrounds. Sam is not on the same level as the following players. However, Michael Vick spent close to two years in prison for illegal dog fighting and returned to the NFL; Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault twice and still managed to successfully continue his career; and Ray Lewis was charged with obstruction of justice in a murder case in 2001 and remains a beloved player in Baltimore.
All of these players have something in common: they all have or had the ability to play at a high level in the NFL. Their skills on the field encouraged fans to excuse their actions and continue to cheer for them on Sundays.
Sam is not similar to these players in terms of actions—I reiterate, being gay is not a crime—but in terms of grabbing the media’s attention, they have plenty in common. The aspect that sets Sam apart from other headline-grabbing players is that he has done nothing to anger the NFL. Additionally, Sam has shown that he has ability to win over fans and teammates no matter their feelings on homosexuality. In a survey conducted by the NFL on Feb. 17, 42 of 51 players surveyed said that they are not concerned with their teammates sexuality. Not that he has to prove himself, but being the reigning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All American certainly encourages fans to support him.
The University of Missouri has been aware of Sam’s sexual orientation since August and kept it a secret from the public, according to espn.com. If Sam is capable of surviving in a college locker room, it is more than possible for him to play at the next level. It may be a talking point when he first arrives, but in reality, these players realize that they are all working towards the same goal of winning a championship. If there are players that are more concerned with teammate’s sexuality than being the best team in the league, it begs the question of whether they truly belong in the league.
Barriers have been broken down time and time again in sports. Jackie Robinson knocked down the race barrier in baseball in the 1950s. Now, black athletes are present in all sports and seen as equal competitors. The NFL is long overdue for someone to break down this wall of sexual orientation. Sam finally gives the NFL the opportunity to finally make a change in this barrier.