Only upstaging Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart’s outburst against a fan as the biggest college athletics story of the week was the monument announcement by Missouri defensive end and NFL prospect Michael Sam revealing that he is openly gay.
Sam was named Defensive Player of the Year of arguably college football’s toughest conference, the Southeastern Conference.
He led his team to a 12-2 (7-1) record, an appearance in the SEC title against Auburn and a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
Others to win the DPOY award include: current NFL first-round draft picks, Eric Berry, Jarvis Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Patrick Willis.
In separate interviews with The New York Times and ESPN, he describes his decision to come out as “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it. I just want to own my truth.”
“I understand how big this is…It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be… I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
Sam immediately has drawn comparison to Jason Collin, a journeyman in the NBA who became the first active gay athlete in the four major sports. However, major differences lie between the two.
Unlike Sam, Collins was in the twilight of his mediocre career amidst his announcement. In fact, Collins wasn’t even on a roster. While he hasn’t received another offer to play, it has nothing to do with his sexuality but his abilities.
But Sam’s draft stock has taken a huge hit since the time of his announcement. Originally thought of a third-round pick, latest reports have him slotted in the seventh round and even undrafted.
The team that drafts Sam will undoubtly inherit the media circus that follows any dynamic story such as this one.
Sam explained how his teammates at Mizzou accepted him immediately.
“They supported me from day one. I couldn’t have better teammates,” he said. “I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”
His father, however, has since flipped his thoughts on the situation. Now saying, he isn’t a fan of his sexual orientation.
Players are forced to be accepting of gay players. Too often are statements retracted and corrected because they are scared of being fined for being honest.
While it may be primitive, players have a right to not like someone because of who they are. People judge. It’s unfortunate, but it’s simply a fact of life.
However, when your employer takes a position, you must oblige to the philosophy of that organization.
The NFL released a statement saying, “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL,” the league said in a statement.
But who exactly is we? Shortly after that statement was released, a personnel assistant spoke on the conditions of anonymity expressing his thoughts on a gay player saying, “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. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, called several anonymous sources “gutless,” adding “It seems like only one of them had the guts to put his name behind his message.”
The problem isn’t that Sam is gay. His being gay makes the story a novelty. It’s that a media circus has been developed because he is gay. Sam accomplished a huge milestone.
What makes even less sense is to applaud him for his decision to be gay but downplay it when it’s time to become a football player. Sam has repeatedly said that he just wants to be a professional football player. So let him just be a football player.
If he should be treated like a normal player, then highlight the other achievements in his life that make him great as you would anyone else.
Highlight the fact that he lost two siblings to the grave. Highlight the fact that he’s overcome two of his brothers being in and out of jail. Highlight the fact that his brother went missing more than a decade ago and he was one of the last people to ever see him.
Pete Moye ‘ is a junior majoring in journalism. You may email him at Pete.Moye@sckans.edu