This past Sunday former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced that he is gay and, looking forward to the 2014 NFL draft, he could become the first openly gay player in American professional football history.
Sam made the announcement on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
“I understand how big this is,” Sam said. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
This past year Sam was named a First Team All-American and was the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the South Eastern Conference, which is widely regarded as the best conference in college football. Sam, who led the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19), is currently projected as a middle round pick in the upcoming draft.
Although Sam is not yet a pro, his announcement displays courage and determination and is a monumental step for the lesbian, gay, bi/transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
“I definitely think it’s challenging folks’ assumption about what we perceive [the LGBTQ] community to look like and what we perceive [the LGBTQ] community to do,” said Ethnic Studies professor Dominic Quinney. “So, it’s forcing people to break down those categories or break down those boxes that we have in mind that construct identities of people.”
There are obviously going to be people, both in the league and outside of it, who will challenge Sam’s decision to come out, despite the bravery he has exhibited. Similar to the way that Jackie Robinson experienced discrimination as the first black Major League Baseball player, Sam will undoubtedly be attacked because he is different.
Sam has received widespread support from a number of athletes and pundits all across America. Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma recently spoke on Mike & Mike in the Morning, discussing how he believes the NFL will receive its first openly gay player.
“There are many different dynamics in the locker room that no one is prepared for,” Vilma said. “And no one knows about because this is the first time you have an openly gay person coming out, in Michael Sam, and, whichever locker room he goes to, that will be the very first time, that I know of, in NFL history where you have an openly gay person coming into a locker room and playing football.
“And if that’s the first time […] there’s going to be some natural resistance, there always is when there’s change, and after that transition it gets smoother and smoother and it’s a nonissue.”
Although Sam has yet to play a single down in the NFL – or even be drafted – his resolve has paved the way for queer athletes across America.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons