by Kent Sterling
Interesting what grabs people’s attention. Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay yesterday, and it’s leading ESPN today.
ESPN being a smart media company doesn’t waste viewers’ time with stuff they don’t care about. They know what news moves the needle, and a guy who comes out is still news.
Judging people based upon who they choose to spend their lives with is a peculiar intrusion that wastes time and energy. If our hope for others includes an ingredient beyond happiness – whatever that means – we fail in our humanity.
Even the profoundly religious understand that judging others is God’s job. Ours is to try to aid those around us smile, learn, and laugh as often as possible as we careen through life toward our ultimate reward.
Sam trusted his teammates to help him do that prior to his final season as a Tiger when he came out to them in August. That went well enough that he is now trusting us with personal information that could potentially cause him financial loss and unpleasant invective.
Being gay shouldn’t be a big deal, but it still is. Sam is expecting the best from us, and that can be a mistake. It’s not his future teammates who are most likely to let him down, but the rabble of our society who feel impunity for their stupidity and narrow-mindedness are in the stands of every arena and stadium in America.
In Lubbock last Saturday night, a fan called Oklahoma State Marcus Smart “a piece of crap.” That prompted Smart to react angrily and shove the fan. The Big 12 has suspended Smart for three games.
When Sam becomes the object of derision, what word do you think will be used to attack him?
There have been gay men on NFL rosters since the league was formed – in major league baseball, the NBA, and NHL too. Most have kept it to themselves. Some have shared their secret with a teammate or two. Sam is the first who has come out on the front end of his pro career.
Jason Collins was center/power forward in the NBA from 2001-2013, and chose to come out as gay after last season, and he didn’t get a contract for the 2013-2014 season. Collins is 35, so maybe it was just his time. Maybe NBA GMs decided that having him around the locker room wasn’t worth the productivity that could be expected from an end of the bench big.
Sam is projected to be a middle round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he has been invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis later this month. The question isn’t whether he can play in the NFL, but whether a general manager might decide to choose someone else of nearly equal talent rather than invite Sam into his locker room.
The issue for GMs won’t be a matter of tolerance or acceptance of a gay man, but whether the complications inherent with drafting Sam will be worth the productivity he brings to the field.
The NFL is a meritocracy. The proof is in the pudding. If Sam’s sexual preference is seen as a non-factor, his announcement will have no effect on his draft status. If his presence is likely to generate strange media coverage, and raise human resources type issues similar to those that resulted in the suspension of Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and the eventual firing of Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, teams might decide the wide receiver they graded just beneath Sam is a more prudent choice.
It’s too bad society will view Sam’s decision to come out as brave, but because his ability to make a living doing what he loves may be adversely affected by the announcement, it was a courageous move.
At some point, whether or not people are gay or straight won’t matter. It will be seen as no one’s business. That will be a good thing for all of us, and it requires men and women to destigmatize sexual preference through announcements like Sam’s.
Whatever happens, Sam’s announcement will be a reason to watch the third through seventh rounds of the draft.