I’m one of those people that believes Michael Sam, the University of Missouri linebacker who came out as gay over the weekend, did a great thing. Sure, I think it’s great that he came out because I think every coming out strengthens us, helps fight back against the ignorance and bigotry and intolerance.
But I also think Sam did a great thing in coming out before he was drafted by an NFL team because he’s basically saying, Look, you’re gonna get a hardworking player, a good player, but a gay player, and you oughta know that up front because you have to be prepared for what comes next.
It was brave of him because his announcement might hurt his chances at being drafted early on with some coaches, managers and owners fearful of what it might mean to have the first openly gay professional football player.
What isn’t so brave, though, are some of the responses from those coaches and managers and owners,. Many of whom spoke to Sports Illustrated [the source for this post] but asked to remain anonymously or, as I like to think of it, closeted in their own ignorance.
According to the SI article, those coaches, managers and owners “project a significant drop in Sam's draft stock, a publicity circus and an NFL locker room culture not prepared to deal with an openly gay player. Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was projected as a mid- to late-round draft pick prior to his announcement.”
Now, not one of these anonymous 'closeted homophobes' condemned Sam for coming out — that would seem homophobic, you know — but they all questioned the notion of what it might mean for the team to have an openly gay player. Even one who might be very good at the game.
An NFL player personnel assistant:
"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."
First off, a gay man is still a man and gay men have been playing professional football for decades already, albeit closeted because of people like this ‘man’ who hides his homophobia behind a game. And, to reiterate, calling someone a gay slur might be commonplace in the NFL but it shouldn’t be.
A veteran NFL scout:
"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 would think a team would want the best player for the job, case closed.
A former NFL general manager told SI that, during the draft, when a team is nine slots away from making a pick, there is typically a declaration in the draft room that six players are being considered. When a team is five spots away, that consideration set is whittled to three. If Sam is among that group of players, the potential distraction of his presence, his gay presence — both in the media and the locker room — could prevent him from being selected:
"That will break a tie against that player. Every time. Unless he's Superman. Why? Not that they're against gay people. It's more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, 'Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'"
Maybe, and again, this, and my general lack of being a billionaire, may be why I don’t own a professional football team, maybe it’s time we let players play and keep their personal lives out of the game, huh?
That former general manager did say, however, that an NFL franchise — such as Pittsburgh, Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore and Indianapolis — with strong owners, savvy general managers and veteran coaches might take a chance on drafting Sam.
An assistant personnel director:
"You're going to have to have one confident general manager or head coach that is certainly entrenched in his position and established to draft a player like that. It's one thing to have Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo, advocates for gay rights, on your team. It's another to have a current confirmed player."
Again, why? Michael Sam is not a gay football player, he’s a football player who is gay. It’s a subtle, but distinct difference that we in the gay community understand; we, and now Sam, are not our sexual orientation any more that a straight person, or professional athlete is his or her sexual orientation.
An NFL assistant coach called Sam's decision "not a smart move":
"You shouldn't have to live your life in secrecy, but do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down in this league?"
Funny, he doesn’t get the irony is stating that Michael Sam shouldn’t have to live his life in secrecy while saying it might be best if her did just that.
That assistant coach said the decision to draft Sam will rest on a franchise's level of comfort in possibly disrupting the dynamic of the locker room:
"There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that. There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It's going to be a big distraction. That's the reality. It shouldn't be, but it will be."
I’ve got a suggestion for those immature fools in the locker-room who might not be able to “handle” a gay player: Get over it. Michael Sam will be doing the same thing in the locker-room that every other player is doing: showering and changing. And for anyone to think otherwise is the height of ignorance; it suggests that all gay men want is to f**k straight guys, anywhere and everywhere; that, somehow, gay men cannot be trusted to do a job, any job, around other men, because all we’ll be doing is day-dreaming about how to get that other guy in the sack.
Well, guess what, you players who think you’re so hot that gay guys will play football their entire lives, practice all day, every day, give up any semblance of a personal life to practice and train to get into a good college with a great football program, then work harder and harder to become the best player they can so they get picked early on in the draft to go to a really great professional team just so he can watch you shower....
Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds, but is you still don’t think it’s a joke,. Listen to what Thomas Roberts, the openly gay news anchor on MSNBC, and another gay man who doesn't hide behind anonymity, had to say about Michael Sam being gay and a football player:
"If the [National Football League] can overlook alleged murderers, wife beaters, and people who don’t pay child support, I don’t think letting in a nice clean-cut gay guy is going to hurt anybody."
Um … snap.