By: Shawn Davis
Congratulations, Michael Sam.
The subject of an openly gay athlete in one of the four major – namely, American – sports is monumental. There is no debate there and I feel most people agree with that. Boy oh boy is the spotlight red-hot on some of the men roaming the National Football League.
What does this mean?
That’s what most of us are waiting to see. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that there have already been gay athletes in the lockers, in the training room and battling on the field on Sundays. Look at society, look at your workplace or better yet look at your family and your inner circle. Isn’t there someone that’s gay? Speaking for myself, I have gay friends and family members and you know what? They are just as normal, miserable, confident, lonely, etc, as any heterosexual. You know why? It’s because we are all human.
Now the “tough guy” culture of the NFL dictates that “men” must rule the gridiron because they’re “macho” and then they must grunt and take all the women they want once they leave the field victorious. (Maybe I went a bit too simplistic.) It is that same culture that has kept athletes from being public with their sexual preference which, for the record, should not matter at all. As long as the player in mind can produce between the lines, there is nothing else to discuss. We know, however, that it isn’t that simple.
What will Sam’s impact be?
Now this is where the scrutiny and the microscope will be centered. He’s being graded, and projected, to be a mid-round selection. That is NFL-speak for being picked anywhere between the third and fifth round. Unless you don’t have internet, a phone, ears or just do not follow college football then you would know that he played in the SEC. SEC college football is basically known as NFL-light in terms of talent as players who compete in that division are viewed as the “cream of the crop” once they declare for the NFL Draft.
In the same conference this past season, Sam was awarded the SEC Defensive Player of the Year (leading with 11.5 sacks). That’s quite an accomplishment so I wonder whether his draft grade is fair. I’ve heard that his announcement didn’t alter anything in regards to his professional outlook but call me skeptic, to say the least. Is he not worth a clear second or third round selection?
He’s getting knocked for being an “undersized” defensive end. (C’mon NFL, aren’t we past that label? Look at Drew Brees and newly crowned Super Bowl champion, Russell Wilson. Both wore the stigma of being “too small” to accomplish anything at the highest level but I think they’re managing well. I might be wrong though.) Yet I’ve read that he’s versatile enough to play in either the 4-3 or 3-4 scheme but there’s a counter argument that he’s bad in coverage as a linebacker. Mixed bag, huh?
What about the distraction element?
Pure bullshit! NFL teams are always concerned with “distractions” but isn’t life – no matter what you do – always going to present them? Is his presence in the locker-room going to be any more of a sidebar than a player being indicted for murder or another being involved in a domestic dispute? Is being openly homosexual going to be more subversive than players usurping the power of the head coaching staff by going directly to the team owner with an issue? How about the burgeoning star player angling for a contract extension in the middle of a losing season – or a winning one? These are all distractions, right? What about a team executive, someone among the franchise hierarchy, having a few too many drinks and then getting behind the wheel thinking that’s a great idea? These issues – and many like them – come to light every season (with the exception murder indictments).
Is he the player that can move the needle and render the gay-athlete insecurities obsolete?
This is not a dig at Sam but with all the attention centered on him, let us not lose sight that he is NOT in the NFL yet; someone needs to select him in May. Keep this in mind. I want him to do well and I root for him to get a real chance to prove what he can do once the whistle blows. The aforementioned question addresses whether he’s good enough to last in the league and not become an afterthought.
What I’m looking to is whether he has the profile – talent-wise – to force the NFL to re-examine their “macho jock” stance. How would the various general managers and team owners feel if the athlete making this type of news was a franchise-caliber quarterback? Let’s say there was a quarterback prospect, this year, praised as universally as Andrew Luck was a few years back that declared his sexuality a few months before the draft took place. What would those anonymous team executives say in their anonymous quotes then? Especially if all the teams in the top-five NEEDED a quarterback, then what would those answers read like? (Most teams picking that high have issues at the game’s top position.)
A star player – or players, in my opinion, would be able to move the conversation forward because the one thing that couldn’t be ignored would be at the forefront: talent to compete and win games. That’s the only variable that should matter in all of this.
If a Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney announced they were gay, the NFL would be primed to be exposed if either candidate fell in the upcoming draft because on just about every mock draft they are both top-four caliber players. Talk about distractions, NFL? The coverage – across all media – would probably shut down league offices and overwhelm training camps.
One player will not render this conversation to the back pages of relevance, it’s going to take a generation of them and Sam exudes the type of character I would want my child to have. Go make plays, Sam.
Lastly, those who argue over the amount of coverage of an openly gay athlete and are tired of it need to sit quiet for a moment and digest what’s going on. Anyone that has ever been discriminated against, experienced hate or been targeted for aspects they cannot control (race, sexual preference, physical and/or mental disabilities, etc) are eager to see where this leads and I’m right along with them. It’s easy to want a story to disappear when you may have never been the subject of ire or blatant discrimination. Although it’s happening at a deliberate pace, the world is evolving. Wake the hell up.