Michael Sam: The Time Is Now
By now anyone with a remote interest in American professional sports has heard of Michael Sam. Sam, a first-team all-American, S.E.C. defensive player of the year, and voted Mizzou MVP of the year, is admittedly gay – 100% pure grade A homo. Whaaaat? An openly gay football player you say? In the NFL?! One of the last strongholds of chest thumping, ass slapping, fart-tastic bastions of male culture? Not possible in my lifetime many have said. The same was said about a black President, and happily, we all know how that turned out. Apparently these same people never heard about Dave Kopay either.
I applaud Michael Sam to have the balls to be honest about who he is. If I were a teammate I’d totally high-five then slap his ass in the locker room, which is the normal way heterosexual men express happiness and approval of a fellow goal-oriented teammate, right? It takes true courage of the highest kind to put yourself out there like that – I know, I came out in 2007 and was scared shitless. Granted I am not a professional athlete with my sights set on a super bowl ring - odd isn’t it that the most coveted award in the NFL is a huge sparkly ring – but I know how difficult it was for me to come to terms with being gay and telling the world. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like for someone like Michael Sam to come out.
But then maybe that’s the point. I am 30, Michael Sam is 24, and that six years may make all the generational difference. With the increase of instantaneous globally-scaled communications and interactions, maybe the pace of social change has accelerated as well? Change that used to take an entire generation to stabilize may now only take a few years instead. I have a lot of acquaintances in their early and mid-20’s who don’t flinch at all when someone comes out, reportedly much like Sam’s teammates. They look at the person as a curiosity, the same way if someone from Jefferson City told you they’re from Missouri, confused as to why you are making the statement at all. I attribute this in part to a society filled with ever more athletes coming out while in their prime playing days or right after. Men and women like Jason Collins, Megan Rapinoe, and Robbie Rogers who are proudly waving their rainbow banners saying “Look at me! I’m gay and the locker room didn’t turn into a KY-filled bath house.” Imagine that.
I am admittedly a cynic about change in America, but that cynicism is like a big, wooly sweater wrapped around an even bigger, softer heart. Many will speculate that Michael Sam’s coming out will herald an early and pointless end to what could have been a stellar NFL career. Some will say it won’t matter, that the world has changed, America is more inclusive and accepting, pointing to more states legalizing same-sex marriage while the federal government grants broader tax benefits and civil rights to the LGBTQ community (all true). I don’t have a Swarovski crystal ball (it would most definitely be Swarovski if I had one) but my huge, wooly sweater heart hopes that he is drafted based on his obvious skills, unquestionable talent, love for the game, and he goes on to help lead the Ravens to the Superbowl in 2017.
All of this reminds me of a conversation about hope I had with a buddy over the holidays. I hope for a day when “coming out” will no longer be a thing. Men and women won’t have to “come out” and make a speech or curl up a ball of paper in anxiety before telling loved one’s “I’m gay”. In a culture where gays are regularly committing suicide, and the IOC has to ask favors that gays won’t be arrested and beaten in the host nation of the 2014 Olympics, no matter what else happens Michael Sam has already done the courageous and has earned the respect that goes along with it. I hope he is the next step in change agents. I hope he is drafted based on the passion in his heart.