On Super Bowl Sunday a friend and colleague posed the question: Have any athletes really pushed social commentary since Tommie Smith and John Carlos? Well, I was mainly at a loss, but . . .
2014, kicker Connor Mertens of Willamette University announced that he was bi-sexual. This was an important civil rights step, but a small school move is indicative of the nomenclature. Something enormous, but quiet occurred tonight: February 9, 2014 can lay claim (somewhat) with June 28, 1969.
A Top 10 defensive end for the upcoming draft, an All-American, Michael Sam came out of the closet. He is not bi-sexual, he isn’t curious, he is attracted to men. He will be drafted to play in the NFL, he will play in September. Everybody, please, pay attention: the gay barrier will be broken in less than seven months.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is history projected. Akin to:
Are you familiar with that iconic watering hole where enough trumped enough? If not look it up, we’ll wait. 1969 saw the flick of the jello mold. Stonewall, if you missed it was the Montegomery Bus Boycott of the Gay Rights movement. Michael Sam’s intentions were not for landmark status, but like Rosa Parks, reality may eclipse intent. (If you don’t think Rosa Parks knew what she was doing . . .)
This is not a fringe player at the end of his career; not the up and comer rocking the minors with a random chip on his shoulder. Mike Sam may not be Jackie Robinson, but this is definitely more important than Pumpsie Green. This is not a step for equality, but a proclamation that Spartacus has arrived.
Michael Sam grew up in Hitchcock, TX, recruited by Arizona State and Colorado State in addition to the Mizzou offer. Sam’s childhood, well, he proved himself. His older siblings were killed, the younger ones are incarcerated, and his feelings about coming-out are understandably reasonable: “telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that.”
This whole asinine reality is remarkable, mainly due to college football fans. Sam’s teammates did not care. NFL scouts have their opinions, but Mike’s 11.5 sacks and All-American should weigh more than his sexual orientation. Would the Columbia faithful have lamented Michael’s orientation, or lauded his prowess differently had they known? He-eell, no!
Seek out the interview, however. Michael was timid, knowing where his brothers and allies lay. He came out to his teammates, who did not balk at his sexuality, but assured him of their support. It was 2013, a group of football players stood with their brother. The stereo-type broken, the brotherhood embraced.
More importantly, Coug fans, what will we do when a player comes out in Pullman? This is a matter of when, not if, because if you believe a gay player hasn’t graced the WSU gridiron, well, I have an interest in the new Narrows Bridge I’d like to sell you; Cash. No checks. You have cheered as he caught a pass, ripped the ball from an opposing half back, or rocked a punt receiver.
Lean close, now listen: every ignorant redneck Coug Fan has cheered, vociferously, for a “fag”.
Yup, he ripped the ball from the SC QB; he jumped on that idiotic bubble screen that Oregon ran; he made that Stanford linebacker cry after breaking his ankle. You just do not know, and, more importantly, it just doesn’t matter.
The NBA’s Jason Collins may sign this season, an MLB player may come out before September, but if you are really that assured of heterosexuality in major sports, your world is done soon.
“I’m Michael Sam, and I want to be a football player.” Would you like Mike on your team? I’ll take him on the Hawks, as long as ducks are forced and sacks are rendered, we’ll take ‘em. We should. Somebody will.
Something will happen in early September, though. I will turn my TV to an otherwise unimportant game, maybe an Indianapolis game, (Indiana, where the Klan reared a disconcertingly Northern wrath) or Carolina where they seem to love the confederate battle flag, to see a gay, black, defensive end take down a quarterback, because that was his job. Folks, scream all you like, but that will happen.
If you don’t like it, well, whom-ever you are, let me hear it. Michael Sam will be Jackie Robinson to many men. He won’t be the first to be called “fag” across the line of scrimmage, but he will be the first to own it. This should never have been a pejorative. Sam played football alongside one hundred or so of his brothers at Missouri. He studied, went to class, graduated, worked out, and lived with these other men, who were all familiar with the worst kept secret in Columbia, MO. Michael was largely the same as his brothers, except that he was the SEC Defensive player of the year and an All-American.
The most intriguing thing is that Michael Sam will engender attention due to this new information, but he will be taken at exactly the same point he would have been prior to learning of his sexuality. (This last assumption is a hope, a dream, and probably putting too much faith in the NFL.)