History is written every day in sports. The memorable moments on the field that will be passed down for years to come is why we watch, why we write and why we talk about sports excessively throughout our lives. But sports also have these rare moments off the field when journalists, fans and other athletes are reminded how big of an impact these men and women we watch religiously have on society.
Sunday night was one of those moments.
Former Missouri defensive captain Michael Sam became a pioneer last weekend when he announced to the world that the NFL will soon have its first openly gay player.
Sam, an anonymous name to the majority of football fans outside the state of Missouri, has etched his name in football’s history book and will be seen as a trailblazer for the remainder of his career.
University of Missouri students cheered, and former teammates supported Sam in such a refreshing way, that it’s difficult to believe homosexuality is still a hot button issue in America and within the realm of sports.
It was only a matter of time before an American football player announced to the world his attraction to the same gender. And to move forward as a sports culture, and a society as a whole, we should celebrate and condone Mr. Sam’s actions, because never again will a change in American culture and its sport’s collide like this again.
All the media coverage Sam’s story is receiving is well worth the airtime, but I would be fibbing myself if I wasn’t wishing announcements of homosexuality by athletes were a non-story in the future.
If an athletes actions off the field are not affecting their performance during competition, who are we to care?
Unfortunately, many believe Sam’s courage will have a backlash due to the timing of the announcement.
Already labeled as a “tweener,” meaning NFL scouts don’t know whether Sam will play outside linebacker or defensive end, talking heads believe Sam’s announcement will affect his already dwindling draft stock.
People believe Sam will provide an unnecessary distraction to whichever organization that drafts the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
I would argue that plenty of players enter the NFL with some sort of “baggage” but if we look back at draft history, baggage didn’t stop franchises from selecting other players trapped in the vicious media cycle. The Chargers didn’t hesitate nor see a distraction when they selected Manti Te’o in last year’s draft.
Te’o was quickly accepted by his teammates after an embarrassing end to his college career. And I would argue Sam’s acceptance from teammates should be the last thing on the minds of organizations across the NFL.
Unlike Te’o, a case study of Sam’s level of acceptance was proven when the Missouri Tigers went 12-2 after their defensive captain announced his sexuality to teammates prior to the start of the season. He was universally loved by his teammates, not for his sexuality, but for the impact he made on games.
I wish nothing but the best for Sam and his future in the NFL. I also hope one day, we can start condoning Sam’s character and talent over his sexual orientation.