It was the making of a quiet Sunday night. People across the country, I'm sure, were doing what they normally do: watching the television, preparing for the Monday morning workday. But if you are like me and two friends in my New York City apartment you were eating dinner and just having small talk. That was until the alert flashed across my phone "NFL prospect Michael Sam announces he's gay!" Our small talk then turned into a much more interesting conversation. Could Michael Sam be the first openly gay person to play in the NFL? What a major milestone this would be if he were, we said to each other. He had already completed one of the best seasons as a defensive lineman at the University of Missouri. Most people wouldn't look at me and say, "Oh, wow he likes football," but I happen to keep up with the latest happenings in sports. I would say my like for sports has truly developed over the years but this isn't about that, it's about the young man who stepped up and decided he wouldn't let anyone else define him or tell his story. I watched as the story played out over social media and on the television. Immediately there were people jumping to his defense, many of whom were some of the National Football League's elite. Then there were the naysayers, or what I like to call the ignorant, with their "Oh, I could never have a gay teammate," tweets and status updates.
Michael Sam on all accounts is a well-spoken, man's man. After doing a little research I found he has one of the best records in one of the toughest conference in college football, but because he announced that he prefers men sexually to women now all of a sudden there has to be a problem with him. I am completely and utterly tired of bigotry and hate, and dare I say it, ignorance. This country, the world for that matter, is full of people who only exist to make life a possible living hell for others. Why can't we just "judge" the man for the work he does on the field and not his actions in the man he chooses to date or spend time with, or ultimately spend the rest of his life with. Sam mentioned that he had informed his coaching staff and teammates at the University of Missouri about his sexual orientation and none of them seemed to have a problem with it. In fact, he said they embraced him and rallied around him because they knew he was a valuable component to the team, and I think it's very clear he wasn't being defined by his sexual orientation. It wasn't a problem for them that he was attracted to men. So why, I ask, should it be a problem for anyone else?
I'm choosing to write about this because it was Tuesday when I saw the news clip from one New Orleans Saints player -- who after thinking about it I will not name in this piece because I don't want to give his ignorance a platform. However, he mentioned as usual the standard, "I can't have a gay teammate, what if he looks at me in the locker room and or shower" speech. Here's my first problem with that. I'm going to need heterosexual men to stop thinking that every gay man on the planet wants to have you; trust me, it's not the case. Furthermore, how can Michael Sam be written off as a great NFL player if he never gets the opportunity? That brings me to my next point of concern. Also Tuesday we learned through the media that his NFL stock might be falling. He was projected to go early during the NFL draft but his revelation may be costing him the game he loves so much. There have been several reports saying there are a number of anonymous general managers for certain teams who want to keep him out of the league and to those people I say: Grow up.
In fact, everyone should grow up. It's truly heartbreaking to me -- someone who unlike a friend of mine, does not put a lot of faith in people -- to see that as a people, as a nation, we aren't able to rise above all the bigotry and hate. That we can't see each other as simply people, that we can't let things like being gay, white, black, Christian or Jew define us entirely. Sure, Michael Sam is a gay black man but should that be a strike against him because there are people too afraid to play alongside him? I think not! Especially since his teammates and the entire Mizzou community stood strong with him and continues to do so during a crucial and vulnerable time in his life. Has the civil rights movement taught us nothing? Has fighting for interracial marriage or the right for women to vote taught us nothing? Have allies in sports like Brendon Ayanbadejo, Wade Davis and Chris Kluwe taught us nothing? I challenge the NFL and teams across the organization to open up and be receptive to the possibility that what someone like Michael Sam living in his truth can not only do for the sport but what it can do for America.
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