The biggest news in Football right now is the remarkable story of Michael Sam a Defensive End for the University of Missouri, a SEC standout that lead his conference in sacks with 11 ¾ and tackles for a loss with 19, he was named the SEC defensive player of the year a honor that he shared with C.J. Mosely and named an All American. Those stats and accolades should get him at least a serious look at the NFL draft and a higher than average pick status.
Except he’s gay.
Sam wasn’t outed, he readily and bravely admitted to his team that he was gay before the season started, and then on Sunday February 9th he made history when he became the first active football player to openly admit to being gay in an interview on ESPN’s “Outside the Line”.
Now instinctively the reaction should have been, who cares the man is a good football player and probably will make a solid addition to any NFL roster even with his smaller size. But that’s not how it played out and that’s the shame of the matter.
Instantly there was concern, can an openly gay player be added to an NFL locker room without disruption? Some football players including Arland Bruce III instantly took the low road in their comments which begs the question of can a locker room survive with an openly gay player in it?
To me the shame of it is that sports are usually at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Bill Willis, Marion Motley, Kenny Washington and Woody Strobe were all pioneers in terms of breaking the color barrier in football, and as a Canadian we all look at Willie O’Ree’s remarkable story in making the NHL. Locker rooms in sports were the great multi-cultural melting pot long before such things became accepted in society. Let’s be honest Rosie Parks didn’t really become the “First Lady of Civil Rights” until she resisted Bus Segregation in 1955, by then African American players were accepted in sports and in locker rooms Iin most major sports.
So I was disappointed in the reaction of some players and scouts and other members of the football fraternity when they questioned whether a gay player would survive in a locker room or would serve as a distraction.
Frankly what’s truly sad about this is that the NFL has accepted terrible human beings in their locker room, men who had perpetuated violent crimes, dealt drugs, sexually assaulted other human beings and well, staged dog fights where they butchered the loser. But they were all given a second chance or a third chance or more. Some people are not even willing to give Sam the first chance.
There is always going to be a vocal majority that is going to actively resist change, society’s hopes lies on the undisputed fact that societal evolution will eventual reduce backwards thinking out of the main stream.
Racism in our society isn’t and will never be gone, it’s just become unacceptable and assigned to fringe groups, the same is slowly happening with homophobia, being gay shouldn’t and in many cases doesn’t disqualify you from doing whatever you want in your life, to have that belief that it should is something to be ashamed of instead of openly promoted. But in this case instead of being the vanguard of equality sports is falling behind and becoming a poor role model because of it.
First of all it’s foolish to believe that there haven’t been gay athletes in pro locker rooms, the shame is that they’ve never felt that they could come out and admit it. Second of all and it’s more of a question then a statement. Is the thought that a gay athlete can’t survive in a locker room a symptom of the older generation in the scouting offices and the coaching offices and the GM offices or the younger player generation? That’s what needs to be debated and understood.
It’s my biggest hope that Sam’s draft position isn’t affected by this announcement, if he has a good combine and still slides in the draft it shows that the sporting world has a long ways to catch up in terms of societal inclusiveness. Sports should reflect what we want in society, the ultimate model of merit, where an athlete’s ability is not judged by the color of his or her skin or sexuality but in the athlete’s ability to contribute to the team and fill the role that he or she trained for. We should desire this in our everyday life and demand it from the teams and players who act as role models and inspiration.
If we can’t get by this and we can’t accept Gay Athletes in any locker rooms we disgrace the players that broke the racial barriers in sports and we disgrace ourselves.