Top NFL Prospect Comes Out

Well this is a first and is likely to be a big story over the next few months. Michael Sam, a first-team all-American linebacker/defensive end from Missouri who is expected to be one of top draft picks in the NFL draft in May, has publicly revealed that he is gay.

Now Mr. Sam enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape. He is making his public declaration before he is drafted, to the potential detriment to his professional career. And he is doing so as he prepares to enter a league with an overtly macho culture, where controversies over homophobia have attracted recent attention.

As the pace of the gay rights movement has accelerated drastically in recent years, the sports industry has changed relatively little, with no publicly gay male athletes in the N.F.L., the N.B.A., the N.H.L. or Major League Baseball. Against this backdrop, Mr. Sam could become a symbol for the country’s gay rights movement or a flash point in a football culture war — or both.

Mr. Sam, 24, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the N.F.L. draft in May, ordinarily an invitation to a prosperous pro career. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed that rumors were circulating.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Mr. Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”

But the N.F.L. presents the potential for unusual challenges. In the past year or so, it has been embroiled in controversies ranging from antigay statements from players to reports that scouts asked at least one prospective player if he liked girls. Recently, Chris Kluwe, a punter, said that he was subject to homophobic language from coaches and pushed out of a job with the Minnesota Vikings because he vocally supported same-sex marriage laws. And last week, Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, said in an interview with NFL Network that he did not want a gay teammate.

“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” said Mr. Vilma, a 10-year league veteran.

In a statement Sunday night, the league said: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the N.F.L. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

There will undoubtedly be teams that decide not to draft him solely because of this, and not necessarily because the owners, coaches or general managers are bigoted against gay people. Some of them will decide it simply isn’t worth the potential distraction in the locker room and the press attention. But he’s going to get drafted and he will then become the first openly gay NFL player. Those 260 pound shoulders are going to have a whole lot more weight on them than other rookies will have. But I’ll certainly be rooting for him. He’s this generation’s Jackie Robinson. Good luck, Mr. Sam.

One important thing to note is that he was out to his college teammates and none of them seemed to care. There wasn’t even a hint of a problem in the Missouri locker room that ever got reported. I suspect that the front office and ownership of teams will have a much more difficult time with this than coaches and players.

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  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    Though I saw an amusing political cartoon about this that seemed to be suggesting that it will improve his game (and hence his prospects) because no one on the other teams will want to tackle him and “Ewww” touch teh Gay…

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    BTW and OT

    The ‘Recent Posts’ list still doesn’t seem to be updating

  • colnago80

    It remains to be seen how the players will react to Sam’s presence. So far, the naysayers have been rather silent so we don’t know how many of them there are but, given the macho attitude in pro football locker rooms, I suspect that they will be heard from, at least privately.

  • dingojack

    PBS Newshour had a piece on this a few days ago [I posted a link on an earlier thread but I forget which one exactly].

    Richard – seems OK here, but that’s not indicative of anything much (or very helpful, I know) .

    Dingo

  • tubi

    He was projected as a 3rd round pick, and now some mock drafts have him as low as the 6th round. But this is something that really can’t be predicted. It’s uncharted water. I suspect (and hope) that in the end, talent will win out. I mean, Lawrence Phillips was still a top 5 pick, even though everyone knew he was violent misogynist. But Sam’s “baggage” is unlike others with some sort of negative pre-draft rep. Being gay isn’t inherently bad, in the way stealing credit card numbers or beating up your girlfriend or having multiple DUIs are. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, and I really hope Sam is strong enough to deal with the fallout. Having read some about his background, and seen him play, I think he is.

    Also, what is it with the NY Times and their style guidelines? Only they would print “N.F.L.” with periods instead of “NFL” like every sane person in America.

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    Dingo, may be an artifact of the wild firewalling and caching they do here at work :-(

  • pocketnerd

    I think you sexual libertines underestimate the danger and cost of having an openly gay man on your team. It’s distracting. I mean, how can other football players be expected to concentrate on the game when they have to worry about being sexually assaulted by a teammate with a perverse lust for filthy, unnatural man-on-man sex? Or in the locker rooms… walking by and seeing Mr. Sam half-naked, still glistening with droplets of water from the shower… adding subtle highlights to his smooth, rich skin… imagine being unable to keep your eyes off those powerful, square shoulders… wanting to feel his strong but surprisingly gentle hands glide across my shoulders, then circle around my back and pull me into a tight embrace…

    Er. Ahem. Yeah, those horrible gays are just too distracting.

  • cptdoom

    One important thing to note is that he was out to his college teammates and none of them seemed to care. There wasn’t even a hint of a problem in the Missouri locker room that ever got reported.

    It can be argued that Sam’s coming out actually helped the team. They were mediocre the year before Sam came out, but he had a stellar year as a senior, helping lead the team to a 12 – 2 season and a Cotton Bowl win. The freedom from worrying about being outed is something that no straight people can really understand, but it could certainly add to a player’s ability to concentrate on the game and make himself even better. Which also means that team that drafts him may find some untapped reservoirs of talent and drive in this player.

    As for the much-predicted “media circus,” my prediction is that it will end about the second or third game Sam actually plays in. There will be interest through the draft and in training camp, but assuming he makes the cut onto the team (and SEC Defensive players of the year have a tendency to do that), the interest will die down once he’s able to make a contribution. As a defensive player, Sam would never, even if he were the best ever at his position, have the same kind of attention as a quarterback or star receiver, and will likely fade into the background (which is what it seems he wants to do, at least initially).

  • pixiedust

    ” a first-team all-American linebacker/defensive end …” and “to the potential detriment to his professional career.”

    Let’s just say that the Denver Broncos have a good idea of the detriment of a poor defense.

  • a miasma of incandescent plasma

    A nice rundown of the support from various NFL people logged here:

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/bernie-bytes-sheldon-richardson-praises-michael-sam/article_af78db5d-446d-5208-94f0-14e0bbf0a5ba.html

    Being and living in St. Louis, which is the closest big city to Columbia, MO (where Mizzou is located) it is interesting reading the ton of coverage being devoted to it (which has been mostly factual and generally positive and progressive!). It seems that most of the reporters covering the team knew of Sam’s “secret” from pretty much the beginning of the year. But without the ability to actually confirm it and not wanting to put other players on the spot, the media didn’t have an ethical foothold to actually release the story before he came out himself. I found this revelation very postive…

    More info from a reporter that semi-covers the team (this author can be a bit of a troll sometimes, and uses this as an opportunity to rip the Mizzou sports program, which he likes to do): http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bryan-burwell/burwell-sam-s-secret-was-not-a-secret-at-all/article_e95c2df0-173c-5394-bb97-2e449b5b229e.html

    I personally think if Sam didn’t want to come out until the season was over then it was a progressive stance taken by the university to support him.

  • cjcolucci

    From what I’ve read and heard, despite being Defensive Player of the Year in college football’s toughest conference, on the merits he’s a second-day pick, mainly because he’s a “tweener,” too small (6’2″, 260) to be an effective end in the NFL and too unskilled (so far) to transition to outside linebacker. He’s supposed to be coachable and hard-working, so for the right team he might be a good 3-5 round pick who has the potential to make the GM look smart if he develops.But he doesn’t fill any obvious needs that other players might not fill as well.

    All of which means there’s no particular NFL team that wouldn’t have plausible legitimate reasons for not drafting him, just as no NBA team seems to need a veteran journeyman back-up big man like Jason Collins. But if nobody took him, I’d be suspicious.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Sam’s father disapproves. 1 son shot dead in a burglary, 1 disappeared years ago, 2 in prison and he’s put out because his successful son is gay.

    http://my.chicagotribune.com/#section/545/article/p2p-79263819/

  • tbp1

    From Tubi, #5:

    Being gay isn’t inherently bad, in the way stealing credit card numbers or beating up your girlfriend or having multiple DUIs are.

    You’re right, of course, but sadly there are still those who think it’s actually worse.

    Jon Stewart had a terrific send up of this, showing the kind of pond scum the NFL is perfectly happy to have play for them as long as they can do their job, in contrast to the uproar over the idea of a gay guy on the team. One of his best ever, IMHO.

  • http://heb712.blogspot.com heddle

    pocketnerd #7,

    I think you sexual libertines underestimate the danger and cost of having an openly gay man on your team. It’s distracting. I mean, how can…

    I think I understand that you are trying to make the point that the “distracting” concern is a bunch of bull. I tend to agree. However I think you are making the point badly. The distraction that they worry about is the distraction due to an over-hyped media presence, like when Tebow went to the Jets.

    No doubt there will be an enormous media presence when he goes to camp and it will, at some level, be a distraction. I would just hope that some team is willing to deal with that (it will, I suspect, die down fairly quickly, in a “there’s nothing here to see” manner). But it may take his dropping in the draft until he becomes a “bargain” enough in a lower round to compensate, in the minds of a GM and coach, for any distraction.

  • carlie

    The locker room is supposed to be a professional place, yes? As the blogger and NPR commentator Linda Holmes recently noted, I wonder how these guys think the whole woman patient/male doctor thing works, if they are under the impression that it’s impossible to be naked in a room with anyone of your preferred romantic gender without a horrible result.

  • scienceavenger

    @1 Sam is a defensive player, so he won’t be tackled much

    @7 Actually, the locker room/bathroom issue is one where the anti-gay rights crowd has a point, and too many on the progressive side dodge the issue. Our social tradition is that people are separated from those potentially sexually attracted to them when in these situations, ie male and female segregated. Homosexuals throw a monkey wrench into this arrangement, and it won’t do to say, as Dan Savage and others have, that they are mature enough to handle it. I’m mature too, but that doesn’t mean I can change in the women’s locker room at my gym if I want to.

    Now personally I’m not real concerned about this, for all I care we could have all unisex facilities and design in more privacy for the meek of heart and shame of body. But it won’t do to mock this argument as every other anti-gay rights argument I’ve seen deserves.

  • dingojack

    I suppose it could be worse, he could have an openly gay tight end. [/inner 12 year old].

    :) Dingo

    ———–

    I apologise, I had to get it out….

  • Chiroptera

    scienceavenger, #16: Homosexuals throw a monkey wrench into this arrangement, and it won’t do to say, as Dan Savage and others have, that they are mature enough to handle it.

    Except according to Ed, this wasn’t a problem when Sam was out to his team mates in college. And as far as I know, this hasn’t been an issue in the military, either.

    Me, I would have thought that this might be a potential issue as well, but in the few cases of actual practice it seems to not be the case. But I’m going mostly by my limited awareness of a few anecdotes, so I may be wrong.

  • colnago80

    Re scienceavenger @ 316

    Our social tradition is that people are separated from those potentially sexually attracted to them when in these situations, ie male and female segregated.

    Where have you been the last 40 years. Female sports reporters have been allowed into pro and college locker rooms ever since federal judge Constance Baker Motley’s decision in the early 1970s, based on Title 9.

  • tbp1

    @#16:

    Not buying it. They’ve let female reporters into locker rooms for years, with naked guys all around, with no discernible problems, at least nothing major enough to warrant their exclusion.

    Also, as I’ve said elsewhere, any guy who has taken PE class, been on a sports team, served in the military, worked out at the Y, belonged to a country club or tennis center, or gone to summer camp has been naked in front of some gay guys, probably many times. This is essentially every male in the US over the age of 14, maybe younger. How many times has this created problems? In my personal experience, none whatsoever.

    Hell, one of my college roommates (as in sleeping in the same room with me) was gay, and later in life I shared a house with a gay friend. Moreover, as a straight guy I’ve shared living arrangements with females (that I wasn’t involved with sexually). None of these situations presented any difficulties at all. My gay room/housemates managed to restraint themselves around me; I managed to restrain myself around female housemates.

    Someone making millions of dollars a years to play a kid’s game, especially one where toughness is so prized, can just shut up and deal with it, AFAIC.

  • dingojack

    scienceavenger – would that mean bisexuals would have to shower by themselves because, who knows they might – what – suddenly lose control? What about lesbians, do they have to shower with the boys now?*

    Dingo

    ——–

    * and ’cause two lesbians showering together isn’t going to be ‘distracting’ for the men.

    PS: In your real life do you avoid colleagues of the opposite sex for fear of suddenly sexually molesting them? Do you avoid pulling over if a police women is driving the patrol car? Do you pretend to be ill so as not to have to go to your kid’s parent/teacher meetings to avoid the chance the mere sight of the female maths teacher will send you into a frenzy of passion? Why do you assume gay people have no self control or professionalism?

  • http://onhandcomments.blogspot.com/ left0ver1under

    Michael Sam has four brothers, two of them definitely older, the other two not specified. Reportedly, Sam’s father is “upset” and started drinking heavily upon hearing this. But if any one person caused Michael Sam to be gay, “dear old dad” is most likely.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/having-older-brothers-inc/

    [Anthony] Bogaert found…that only the number of biological older brothers predicted sexual orientation in men–even when the number of non-biological older brothers was significantly higher. Second, his study showed that the amount of time reared with older brothers–either related or not–did not predict a young boy’s becoming homosexual. And surprisingly, Bogaert discovered that even if a young man did not grow up in the same house as his older brothers, the fact that he had older biological brothers increased his odds of being gay.

    I first heard this story two days ago, and I haven’t stopped smiling since.

  • http://onhandcomments.blogspot.com/ left0ver1under

    tbp1 (#20) –

    Not buying it. They’ve let female reporters into locker rooms for years, with naked guys all around, with no discernible problems, at least nothing major enough to warrant their exclusion.

    You may have forgotten, or it was before your time, but Lisa Olson and Denise Tom would beg to differ with you.

    http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20113326,00.html

    http://articles.latimes.com/1990-10-02/sports/sp-1891_1_locker-room

  • Michael Heath

    tubi writes:

    He was projected as a 3rd round pick, and now some mock drafts have him as low as the 6th round.

    I read Michael Sam’s was a third to seventh rounder prior to his announcement.

  • eric

    the locker room/bathroom issue is one where the anti-gay rights crowd has a point, and too many on the progressive side dodge the issue. Our social tradition is that people are separated from those potentially sexually attracted to them when in these situations, ie male and female segregated. Homosexuals throw a monkey wrench into this arrangement,

    No, the anti-gay crowd does not have a point and gays do not throw a monkey-wrench into the arrangement, because the issue is outness, not gayness. If you prevent gays being “out,” you still have gays in the locker room. The fact that some men are attracted to other men doesn’t justify DADT policies because they’re still going to be there even if nobody tells.

    Dingo;

    I suppose it could be worse, he could have an openly gay tight end. [/inner 12 year old].

    Hey now, you’re quoting only half of a pretty funny one-liner from a 1980’s Saturday Night Live skit. At least get it right “I’m [I forget the characters name], from the San Francisto 49ers. This year I’m playing tight end, but next year I hope to be a […pause…] wide receiver.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    Looking around at various forums, I’ve noticed quite a few commentators saying that Sam should have just “kept it to himself” and there wouldn’t be a problem. This is usually followed by the typical wingnut obsession with things being “shoved down our throats.”

    I can’t help wondering how these same people would react if someone gave Tim Tebow that same advice.

  • eric

    That skit also brought us the amusing play on “a mind is a terrible thing to waste” – “I’m [character’s name]. I play football because a mind is a terrible thing.”

  • stubby

    Here is what Arland Bruce of the Canadian Football League had to say about Sams. Yes, he actually spelled “gay” incorrectly. The league fined him and one other player for their comments.

    “YOW!!!!! Mr/MSam you scared to rub on titties and ass and coochie you gaey, Man up and do some MFN push UPS and get on your knees and submit to God fully. Come out of her: America’s trap…Lil homie don’t go thru with it it’s a trap bruh.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    stubby@28:

    And that is why Canadian Football will always be a sucky imitation of American Football.

  • jnorris

    I’m with pixiedust at #9. The Broncos can’t afford not to have Mr Sam.

  • tbp1

    @23, You’re right, I should have done a little more homework before posting, But still, the correct solution isn’t banning women sportswriters from the locker room, but instead demanding that football players act like grownups (well at least grownup-ish, considering what they do for a living) around everyone in the locker room, male or female.

    Likewise the “solution” to gay players is to demand that people being paid millions of dollars treat all their teammates equally, rather than excluding the gay guy.

  • cptdoom

    Except according to Ed, this wasn’t a problem when Sam was out to his team mates in college. And as far as I know, this hasn’t been an issue in the military, either.

    It isn’t a problem generally in the world. We gay men have been around you straight men, in all kinds of situations, clothed and otherwise, for centuries. Yet there is no an epidemic of gay on straight rape (in fact, even in prisons gay men tend to be the victims, not the aggressors, in rape). It is not, after all, gay men who lie in bushes attacking the objects of their lust. Outsports has a great letter from an openly gay college football player that goes right to the heart of the matter:

    http://www.outsports.com/2014/2/12/5403620/gay-football-player-reveals-what-showering-with-teammates-is-really

    After hours of hard practice in 105-degree August heat, I was hot, sweaty, sore, bruised, tired and hungry. Hitting on my teammates was the last thing on my mind. Never mind that they were like my brothers and weren’t my type; I just wanted nothing more than to rinse off the turf and sweat and get some Gatorade and grub.

    He also goes on to point out that he was openly gay and in cold tubs with fellow players who had no problem with the situation. Perhaps they realize that sitting in icy cold water is exactly the opposite environment that l’amour needs.

  • http://onhandcomments.blogspot.com/ left0ver1under

    d.c.wilson (#29) –

    So in your mind, the fact that the two idiots in question – who are Americans – are the fault of Canadians?

    And you feel CFL team owners, GM and coaches are “unenlightened bigots” compared to NFL owners, GMs and coaches? That despite the CFL braintrust being totally supportive of Sam’s statement?

  • http://onhandcomments.blogspot.com/ left0ver1under

    d.c.wilson (#29) –

    And for the record, check your ignorance at the door and go learn the history of the two versions.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “Also, what is it with the NY Times and their style guidelines? Only they would print “N.F.L.” with periods instead of “NFL” like every sane person in America.”

    They still don’t wear white shoes after Labor Day–not even sneakers!

    @23: Sam Wyche and Zeke Mowatt. Both of them are assholes and both of them are heterosexuals who obviously see women as threatening (just my opinion, but Dr. X might speak more authoritatively on the subject). Both instances happened around 25 years ago. I like this guys take on Sam Wyche’s bullshit behavior:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/10/03/sports/sports-of-the-times-sam-wyche-needs-some-time-off.html

    from back when the Gray Lady still used good writers for most of their stories.

    Ed:

    Can you get Sam Jackson to come over and do something about the motherfucking pop-ups on thjs motherfucking blog?

    @34:

    I think that without the CFL a few really good NFL players would never have gotten a chance to sharpen their skills–otoh, a lot marginal players who would never make it in the NFL have decent jobs in the CFL.–I’m seeing Arland Bruce as being one of the latter. The ultimate payback would be if Mr. Sam wound up in the CFL for some reason and made Mr. Bruce a wider and thinner end by smearing his ass on the astroturf a few times.

  • scienceavenger

    Please pardon the belated response, but life got in the way I think this is worth hashing out:

    @18 If it was discovered at your gym that a man had been hiding his identity and had been using the women’s locker room, would he be allowed to continue doing so? Why not? After all, he hasn’t been a problem or caused any issues.

    @19 Where I’ve been is wondering whether male reporters are allowed into the ladies dressing room at Wimbledon. But this is off-point anyway, falling under “professional license” the same as a male OBGYN.

    @20 It’s not about restraint, it’s about violating a privacy policy. I’ve lived platonically with women too, and none of them would have thought it reasonable for me to share their dressing area. Telling them to just shut up and deal with it would not have flown.

    @21 Again, it’s not about losing control, but you are on the right track. If we were to maintain the same privacy standards, homosexuals would have to change in two-person suites, one for each gender. Silly, I know, but unless our social standard changes, I don’t see an alternative.

    @25 You are dodging the issue, which is not outness, but violation of longstanding privacy policies with regard to who changes with whom.

    Not one of you has addressed the issue here, and again, I give a simple counterexample: If I, a straight man, decided I wanted to use the women’s locker room at my gym, no problems, no issue, no loss-of-control rape nonsense, what argument can you give to exclude me that wouldn’t apply equally to a gay man in the men’s locker room?

    And let me be clear. *I* personally don’t give a shit. At my age, anyone who wants to change in the same area as my fat hairy ass is welcome to, gay, straight, whatever. The issue interests me because it seems the pro-gay rights side refuses to deal honestly with it, perhaps because its a tough cookie to crack, and in part because heterosexual society is in such a healthy growth period of learning that homosexuals are people just like us that we can be blind to the fact that when it comes to social interactions they are NOT just like us. Not worse, not better, but different. Same-same attractive makes for different social dynamics than same-different attraction. For example, while some heterosexuals have to deal with mutual acts of infidelity in their relationships, they don’t ever find themselves faced with having each been unfaithful with the same person. Homosexuals can. Likewise, there is no social equivalent of the stag social among homosexuals, because the moment more than two people are in the room, the sexuality level rises above zero. And of course, heterosexuals can have a changing area for private behavior for many people sans a sexual element, and homosexuals cannot. And again, my solution is for everyone to lighten up, get healthier attitudes about our bodies (thanks religion), and just go unisex across the board. But pretending the issue doesn’t exist won’t do.