In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced to the world that he was gay. Now, with the NFL Combine two weeks away and a little under three months from the NFL Draft, it seems a certainty that Sam will be the first openly gay active player in the NFL.
Sam is following in the footsteps of professional athletes like 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins, WNBA rookie Brittney Griner and Major League Soccer midfielder Robbie Rogers, some of the only openly gay athletes in the country.
Probably the best news to come out of this is that Sam — who is projected to be taken in the middle rounds of May’s NFL Draft — told his Missouri teammates that he was gay during a team meeting in August. It didn’t cause the rift in the locker room that some have feared. Rather, teammates supported Sam.
“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,” Sam said in his interview with ESPN.
The reaction from people within the NFL, who all remained anonymous, was much more grim. Several team executives commented that Sam’s draft stock would fall because of his sexual orientation.
“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?’” one NFL scout said in an interview with Sports Illustrated.
There is nothing wrong with that barrier. It exists, not doubt, but there is nothing wrong with tearing it down.
The fact of the matter is that Sam is good football player. You don’t get named an All-American and Defensive Player of the Year for arguably the best college football conference in the country by being anything but good. And yet, teams are willing to not draft him because of his sexual orientation.
Many of those anonymous sources threw out the claim that it would bring unwanted media attention to the team or that it would “chemically imbalance” the locker room, as one personnel assistant said to Forbes magazine.
Amongst the players, support for gay athletes in the NFL is mixed. NFL diva Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson tweeted, “That took some courage but man his draft stock is going to plummet even though it should be based on production and how he can contribute!!”
On the other side, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said in an interview last week that he would be uncomfortable with a gay teammate.
“Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?” Vilma said.
There’s no way of telling just how many players, not just in the NFL but in all sports at all levels, agree with Vilma. Certainly, based on the response of team scouts and executives, it is not an uncommon opinion.
That opinion will most likely cost Sam at the NFL Draft. It isn’t what’s right and it isn’t what should be happening in today’s world, but that’s the situation at hand.
Michael Sam will be the first openly gay player in the NFL this coming season. The path won’t be easy. Whether it’s on Draft Day, on the practice field or in the locker room, Sam will face adversity.
The Jambar staff counts itself among his supporters, and we hope that Sam will show the NFL and sports at all levels that sexual orientation does not matter.