It's been just over a week since University of Missouri defensive end and NFL prospect Michael Sam publicly acknowledged that he is gay. Athletes, coaches and people from all circles have spent the past week reacting to the announcement and to the reality that after the second weekend in May - when the 2014 NFL draft takes place - the NFL will have its first openly gay player.
Most of the feedback thus far has been positive and encouraging, with many players expressing that they support Sam and would readily accept him in the locker room. Aside from a few anonymous general managers unsure if the NFL is ready for an openly gay player, very little negative feedback has come forth from those closest to the game (players, coaches, front offices, etc.).
But the question is, what should you, as a fan, think?
Those who passionately support homosexual athletes coming out claim that they want the individual to be judged on athletic merits alone, and to not be looked at any differently on a professional level as a result of their sexuality. This begs the question, if you're saying it shouldn't matter, then why go out of your way to come out and tell us?
The case of Jason Collins come to mind, as the free-agent NBA center publicly came out in April. He didn't really have a reason for why he decided to make the announcement when he did in an interview with Sports Illustrated, other than the fact that "nobody has, which is why I'm raising my hand."
But Sam's explanation for his unprompted announcement is a legitimate one. He said in his interview with ESPN that he was surprised to find out how many members of the media knew that he was gay at the Senior Bowl in January. Upon discovering this, Sam didn't want the news to be leaked or spread by someone else other than himself, and determined it necessary to make the announcement.
Some fans didn't like the announcement because they didn't really know who Michael Sam was prior to his coming out, leading to unfair speculation that he did it for the exposure. But if fans didn't know who Michael Sam, the football player, was, then they must not have spent much time watching the best of college football.
Sam, a projected mid-round selection by many scouts and analysts, was a destructive force on the Missouri Tigers defense in 2013. He was named SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and was voted team MVP by his teammates last season.
If you've watched any of Sam's game film, you'll see that he was nearly unstoppable at the line of scrimmage for the majority of the time he spent on the field.
He was recognized as the best defensive player in the SEC, the conference acknowledged as college football's best.
So he was the best defensive player from college football's powerhouse conference, and you're not sure if you'd want him on your team?
Others are concerned that he and his sexual preference may potentially cause trouble in the locker room. While locker room chemistry is an understandable concern, it's ultimately way off-base. Sam came out to his Missouri teammates back in August, and it didn't hinder the team in any way, shape or form. The Tigers succeeded in keeping his personal business inside the locker room, and many of his college teammates have confirmed that the team supported Sam completely.
Oh and by the way, Missouri finished 12-2, went to the SEC Championship game, won the Cotton Bowl, and finished the season ranked #8 in the country. With an openly gay player in the locker room. Imagine that.
The other major concern is that drafting Sam will bring a media circus to his team next season. Yes, there will definitely be more reporters than usual making trips to the facilities of whatever team drafts Sam. If there are no major problems in the locker room and no one makes any boneheaded comments upon his arrival, I don't think Sam's "circus" is likely to stay in town for more than a week or two.
I could see a team with a veteran presence in the locker room and a reputation for putting together a perennial strong front-seven core drafting Sam. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind.
But as far as fans are concerned, if your team is looking to draft a defensive end/outside linebacker in the middle rounds, and you're hoping that they don't take Sam, that's your problem.
His small size relative to his position has been pointed out as a potential obstacle, but it's something that's been overcome in the NFL numerous times. Sam is a great football player and has serious pro potential.
No one is asking fans to morally accept Sam's sexuality. No one is asking fans to condone the way he chooses to live his life. Most importantly of all, no one is asking fans to put aside or abandon their personal beliefs on the subject. When it comes to the role of the fans in this case, it's not to judge the man, but to judge the football player.
If you can do that, you'll come to the conclusion that you want Michael Sam on your football team. If your team needs a defensive end or outside linebacker in the middle rounds of the draft and Sam is still on the board, what he does in his own time is completely irrelevant - it's what he can do on the field that really counts.Back to the NFL Newsfeed