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Views & Voices

Michael Sam bravely comes out … Now what?

Monday, February 10, 2014
G.M. Andrews, APMichael Sam, at the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Mobile, Ala.

G.M. Andrews, AP
Michael Sam, at the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in Mobile, Ala.

Michael Sam could’ve taken the — well, not the easy, but certainly the easier — way out by staying mum on his sexual orientation, at least until after the NFL draft.

Instead, one of the nation’s top college football players bravely decided to speak now, to tell the world he is gay at a time when NFL teams are grading the guys they’ll be picking in a couple of months.

This is not Jason Collins, as courageous as he was, coming out at the end of his NBA career. This is a young man just getting started as a professional, after leading Missouri to one of the best seasons in school history.

Finally, we’ll get to see how this plays out, an openly gay player lining up in America’s most popular sport. Finally, we’ll get to see what barriers we’ve broken down and, more important, what hurdles remain when someone acknowledges they are gay, then competes with and against guys who may be repelled by the notion of having a relationship with another man.

Because of Sam, it will be easier for the next guy. And the guy after that. But for all the progress this country has made in gay rights, there will surely be plenty of ugliness in the weeks and months and years to come.

“The reality is: Michael Sam is going to open himself up to a lot of criticism and a lot of challenges,” said former NFL offensive lineman Frank Garcia, now a sports radio show host in Charlotte. “Those are challenges most gay people have to go through, but when you are dealing with alpha males and some meatheads in an NFL locker room, it’s amplified. And there are some guys who have strong religious beliefs too, so he’s going to be judged. He’s going to face some things that are going to be very difficult to overcome.”

We’ve already gotten more than a glimpse at what Sam will face. At last year’s Super Bowl, San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver made a fool of himself when jokingly asked by comedian Artie Lange if he would ever pursue a gay man.

“Ain’t got no gay people on the team,” Culliver said. “They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

A few years ago, I broached the idea of having an openly gay teammate to several players in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse. One freely conceded he would be uncomfortable dressing or showering in front of someone he knew was gay, and I’ve long suspected he was not alone in that attitude. Anyone who has ever been in a sports locker room knows what a macho world that can be, where distasteful — even hurtful — words are thrown around with shocking frequency.

Just ask Jonathan Martin, the offensive lineman who walked away from the Miami Dolphins this past season, claiming he had been bullied and harassed daily by teammate Richie Incognito and others.

Eight NFL executives and coaches, interviewed by SI.com and given anonymity so they could give their true opinions, revealed the daunting challenges that Sam set himself up for by coming out ahead of the draft.

Before he spoke, the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year was projected as a mid- to late-round draft pick. Now, according to everyone interviewed by SI.com, his stock will certainly plummet.

“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “Do you want to be the team to, quote-unquote, break that barrier?”

A player personnel assistant added, “I don’t think football is ready for it just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a (gay slur) is still so commonplace.”

Imagine what Sam might face on the field, in a sport where it’s not all that unusual for a player to exact his own version of justice with a low blow or a dirty block.

But there’s some encouraging signs, as well.

Sam came out in August to his teammates and coaches at Missouri, and it sure didn’t seem to have any negative impact on the Tigers. They went 12-2, won the SEC East Division title, and defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. Sam, a 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive end, led the conference in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19).

“Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he’s taught a lot of people here firsthand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “If Michael doesn’t have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don’t think there’s any way he has the type of season he put together.”

Let’s hope there’s another team, another group of players that feels the same way, that judges Sam by what he can do on a football field.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

It’s time.

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41 more reader comments:

  1. Gay straight doesn’t matter but one thing.. can he play?

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:28pm
  2. Brave guy!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:29pm
  3. CONGRATULATIONS

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:30pm
  4. If he’s a top prospect I’m guessing so. Much love. It takes courage to be yourself. In this day and age the haters need to see gay people in different walks of life to understand that we cannot be prayed away, or silenced through any other means. As sad as that is.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:32pm
  5. Now everyone just let him live his life, being gay shouldn’t define him for his entire life; it’s just a part of who he is.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:34pm
  6. He already said it. Keep going!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:34pm
  7. :)

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:35pm
  8. I would marry him…

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:35pm
  9. Play ball

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:35pm
  10. It’s going to be sad if he doesn’t get signed with the NFL.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:36pm
  11. I would marry him also.he is sexy

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:37pm
  12. Courageous INDEED! Best of luck to Michael!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:37pm
  13. I wonder if he’ll stay in the draft pick, people are still closed minded in this world maybe even so in the league. Overall good for him coming out it is hard for anyone.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:39pm
  14. That fantastic that he came out good for you dude,now maybe somebody else will be brave like you & the rest of us gay people to be ourselves & show the world that we are millions strong.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:40pm
  15. Its kinda sad there has to be a “now what” god speed the day when such a thing is met with “congratulations your strong enough to be yourself”

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:41pm
  16. congrats michael,play ball :)

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:41pm
  17. He’ll get signed. I’m hoping by my Arizona Cardinals. We could use his talents

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:41pm
  18. No! I want him for the Steelers! (that may make me actually like my hometown team).

    Replied on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:43pm
  19. Wtg… He is a full Saint all the way…Who Dat!!!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:45pm
  20. What a MAN and a massive hunk as well

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:49pm
  21. Gay Pride !

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:52pm
  22. Now he will continue to excibit his talent on the field. But sadly, some homophobes are already talking shit.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:53pm
  23. He’ll get drafted. He’s the best defensive player in the SEC. Some team will make the step.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:01pm
  24. The sky did not fall.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:05pm
  25. This dude is a BEAST! The only that pisses me off is that this will affect his draft (higher pick in the draft more money). This dude was the SEC defensive player of the year (BAMA, LSU…YEAH THOSE SCHOOLS) and now he may be a late 5th round at best.. sad! The man can play ball…I could give a flying fornication what he does in his bedroom…Hell hit up coach Harbough from my Niners and get this dude signed!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:11pm
  26. Best of luck. He did the right thing !!!!!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:18pm
  27. I hope no one tries to kill him on the field. This world is full of uneducated deluded bigots.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:37pm
  28. Love you Michael

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:41pm
  29. How many straight people came out today?

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:55pm
  30. xxoo

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:59pm
  31. be happy and be yourself

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:21pm
  32. We have your back big. Fan

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:27pm
  33. Lmao mardell

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:29pm
  34. WHO CARES!?

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:36pm
  35. if you feel this way than why are you ona pro LGBT forum? Just to troll with your little rethuglican buddies? Worthless cunting twat

    Replied on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:07pm
  36. I have offened someone that commented to me that he did not want to deal with a come-one. I laughed and said: Do the same thing you do in a bar when an unwanted advance happens. Say thank you, I’m not interested.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:40pm
  37. <---transman here....LGBTQ individual....devils advocate moment....what if a hater forced his hand & threatened a tell all display....that coulda been why he came out.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:42pm
  38. Michael is a hero to the gay community. coming out with so much at stake. there are a lot of haters in this world. Good for you michael, love yourself as you are! You are perfect the way you are, and no religion, politics, or powers can change that.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 9:57pm
  39. I am proud of u for doin that

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:09pm
  40. We salute Michael Sam. Get over it NFL.

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:25pm
  41. Thank you Michael!

    Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:32pm