In an interview with Chris Connelly of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” former Missouri defensive-end Michael Sam announced that he is gay.
In the masculine world of sports, especially American football, a statement of this magnitude can cause a whirlwind of mixed emotions. One never knows how others will react when news like this comes out from a teammate.
“This past August, I came out to my teammates, and they took it great. They rallied around me, they supported me and I couldn’t ask for better teammates,” Sam said in the interview. “I was kind of scared. Even though they already knew, I was still scared of telling them and just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from day one.”
Now, I would love to say that this will not affect his draft status, as he is currently projected to be a fourth-round pick in May’s NFL draft. I would love to say that teams would only look at his 2013 Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Award, his SEC-leading 12.5 sacks and his performance at the upcoming NFL Combine. What I can say is, I don’t know.
The truth is, unfortunately, we do not live in a world where performance alone grants you acceptance in an NFL locker room. Just ask San Francisco 49ers corner Chris Culliver. He had a colorful statement on the matter prior to last year’s Super Bowl.
“I don’t do the gay guys man, I don’t do that,” Culliver reportedly told Artie Lange of the Howard Stern Show. “We don’t got no gay people on the team. They got to get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
Some teams, as former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleges, will do whatever they can to keep out of the spotlight. Kluwe, who has been an outspoken supporter for same-sex marriage, told NPR that he was cut from the team for his beliefs. The incident is being investigated, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
I can certainly see how drafting Sam could cause a distraction in the locker room. ESPN running this story nonstop after it broke is evidence enough for that. That would be the main reason I could see teams shying away from him.
I hope the NFL takes this opportunity and gives Sam a chance. He’s a gay man. So what? He’s also a 6’ 2” 255lb pass rusher that has proved himself against arguably the toughest competition in college football.