I want to be wrong, but I'm worried the recently out Michael Sam won't get drafted into the NFL this year.
The reasons don't all have to do with his sexual orientation, but most of them do. As has been repeated ad nauseum, there are a lot of general managers and coaches who have to worry about "the locker room."
It's been articulated that this is nonsense, and I'd agree. But I also don't think it can be entirely overlooked. The truth is that homophobia exists across the globe and in all sports, ironically so in those where grown men get into tight pants and sweatily tackle each other for an entire hour. So what happens if you bring someone into the locker room that one, two or ten guys automatically decide they won't like?
As we've seen with players like Terrell Owens, it can be destructive; and as much as I hate to say so, from a coach's perspective, it could be risky, too. At the same time, at some point these coaches need to make a decision: if they don't think their locker rooms are ready for a gay player, they can either submit to the bigotry around them or do everything in their power to change the tone of that locker room. My hope is there are enough good leaders in the NFL to pursue the latter.
Then there are the pure football credentials of the situation: Sam is an SEC Defensive Player of The Year who recorded a conference-high 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. But the 6-foot-2 defensive end weighs 260 pounds, had nine of those 11.5 sacks in three games and has been described as under-sized and over-hyped. Regardless of his sexual preference, Sam's draft stock -- like almost every other college football player's -- has been thoroughly evaluated with mixed results.
— Mizzou (@Mizzou) February 10, 2014
Truthfully, the stakes have never been higher for gay athletes.
In the last year, we watched the NBA's Jason Collins come out and then promptly get zero contract offers. We dealt with the Duck Dynasty blunder and the ridiculous aftermath that followed. We saw lesbian and gay couples married on television for the first time at the Grammy's, and the hateful outburst that came with it. Most recently, we all had to swallow the horrific scenes of Russia, where the Olympics got dragged into the "gay athlete" conversation.
And after a little bit of thought, I've made my mind up about the NFL's first openly gay draft prospect: I want him. I want him on my team, in the NFL, playing for my fantasy defense and leveling hit-sticks in Madden.
As a die-hard Washington Redskins fan, I've had to endure years of everything from mediocrity to atrocity on the field. In the last couple years, the disappointing performance of my favorite sports franchise has spread from our (not so) green grass to the green room, where we are (rightfully) losing a political battle regarding our name and being forced to stand with an owner nobody can tolerate.
But I have hope. I have hope Daniel Snyder, our vengeful and egotistical puppet master, can step out of himself and see an issue bigger than football. I have hope that our under-performing defensive coordinator can take a chance on the best defensive player from the best conference in college football. I have hope that our lovable third-year franchise quarterback has the leadership skills to unite a team around a player who is willing to do something no other player before him has done.
I have hope that in a year where Vladimir Putin had to 'protect Russia's children' from gay athletes and fans at the Olympics, we can pave the way for gay football players on our own soil. I have hope that the fans of whichever team Sam ends up going to care more about being crappy people than having a crappy football team.
Most of all, though, I have hope that our nation's capital can be behind the biggest movement in sports since Title IX and Jackie Robinson.
I have hope that one day in the near future, Michael Sam will run out of the tunnel onto FedEx Field in the capital of the United States, only to be greeted by the standing ovation of 92,000 fans accepting a good football player for a good football player, regardless of who is going to be his Valentine this week.
Some more relevant tweets:
Michael Sam isn't the 1st gay player in the NFL although he is the 1st 2 come out.#realtalk Let's show him love like a family member. Truth
— DeionSanders (@DeionSanders) February 10, 2014
Hats off to you Michael Sam, that takes some guts #respect
— Jonathan A. Martin (@J_Martin71) February 10, 2014
Yo if you're gonna call Michael Sam a fag, tell it to his face... pic.twitter.com/cfyc5tJAaD
— Mike Klinge (@RealMikeyBob) February 10, 2014
Follow Isaac Saul on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ike_Saul