The light of equality could soon be shining strongly in the NFL come next season. Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has announced he is gay. This comes prior to the much anticipated NFL draft which takes place in May.
In an exclusive interview with SI.com, eight NFL executives and coaches anonymously predicted that Sam's announcement will significantly hurt him in the upcoming draft. Sam is expected to be a high-round draft pick, but those interviewed by SI.com predicted this will make his path to the league "daunting," and cause him to drop drastically in the draft.
One player personnel assistant interviewed by SI.com said, "I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game."
A veteran NFL scout told SI.com, "I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down. There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier?'"
I for one would be excited to welcome Michael Sam to my team if I were coaching in the NFL, not because he would be the first openly gay football player in the NFL, but because he is the epitome of mental toughness. Just look at the guts of this young man to come out to the world and to the league before the draft. Sam is a bold and daring visionary and he's not afraid of what other people think, and his bravery and courage are going to serve him well and take him places both on and off the field. We already know what Sam is capable of on the football field physically speaking, but we now know how tough he is mentally. Anyone who can handle that kind of pressure is going to make an awesome addition to any team.
Like any great movement in history, there always has to be someone who gets the ball rolling. Think about what Jackie Robinson was to African American's in Baseball. The Major Leagues had not had an African-American player since 1889, when in 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached Robinson about joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, and Michael Sam is the catalyst of bringing down the wall for gay football players throughout America, whether they are pros in the NFL or pee wees in Pop Warner.
Critical thinking on this one is simple: Michael Sams' talent and ability to play pro football has absolutely nothing to do with his sexual preference. How do we know? Because Sam told the Tigers last August that he was gay and the team not only fully supported him, they made him a team MVP and watched him sack the quarterback 11.5 times. The same scenario can and should play out in the NFL. The only thing that matters is the bottom line: can Michael Sam help an NFL team be more successful? Absolutely! He's a strong football player and that's all that really matters.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday night, "We're really happy for Michael that he's made the decision to announce this, and we're proud of him and how he represents #Mizzou." Perhaps the NFL could learn a thing or two from the NCAA.
It's time for America to grow up and recognize that homosexuality is neither a choice nor a disease, any more than being a heterosexual is. Homosexuality is a natural predisposition that exists throughout the animal kingdom. In fact, a study by The Williams Institute estimates that approximately 9 million Americans - roughly the population of New Jersey - identify as LGBT. These are our brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, professionals in all different industries of the workforce, athletes and more. They deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.
Michael Sam might be the first openly gay football player who is drafted to the NFL, and because of his courageous announcement he won't be the last. While today's news could be historical for the gay rights movement, we must look beyond that. Just as gay marriage will eventually simply be referred to as marriage, let's look forward to the day when we can simply identify great athletes like Michael Sam as great athletes, and leave their sexual orientation out of the story.