As Thomas Holmes pointed out in our paper this week, Michael Sam will, in all likelihood, become the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the National Football League.
This isn’t the type of story that needs a drawn out lede or a hyperbolic introduction. It is a milestone that stands on its own. Through the haze of the talking heads and through all of the uncertainty that typically surrounds the NFL draft process, one thing is clear: Michael Sam is a brave man, and as he continues his quest to play professional football, I will certainly be rooting for him every step of the way.
Sam announced that he is openly gay on last Sunday’s episode of Behind the Lines on ESPN. Since then, the internet has lit up with response, and those responses have run the gamut. Public figures both within and outside of the football world have come out to support Sam, while athletes like Jonathan Vilma have voiced concerns about having a gay man in an NFL locker room. Some NFL executives who have (conveniently) chosen to remain anonymous have said that they expect Sam’s draft stock to tumble. Sam’s own father has announced that he is struggling mightily with his son’s sexuality.
Meanwhile, Sam still has to deal with all of the build up of the NFL Draft: the 40-yard-dash timing extravaganza that is the NFL Combine, the exhausting and exhaustive interviews from scouts, the draft pundits and their too-influential opinions. All of that, though, is largely incomparable to having to answer to scouts who say that the “NFL isn’t ready for a gay player.”
In short, I’ve got news for the people who’ve said that: too bad. Guess what? It doesn’t matter if the NFL is “ready”, because keeping Michael Sam out of the league because he’s gay is highly discriminatory and will not stand unpunished. Second, Michael Sam will not be stopped. He’s too good, too determined, too focused and too strong to take no for an answer–much stronger, in fact, than people like the “anonymous NFL executives” who have hidden behind their close-minded words.