Michael Sam is a football player. From the offset, that really should not be taken as such a surprising thing. However, there is a deeper impact that comes with the title of his profession. At age 24, the former Missouri defensive end is now the first openly gay male to be a part of a major league sports team. At first glance, the thought of an openly homosexual sports player should not come as much of a shock as it seems to be. But here it is 2014 and this young man is now carrying a lot more on his padded shoulders then he probably intended. Michael Sam has just made history.
When anyone decides to reveal their true self to the world, it is a huge moment. The words that come with admitting one’s sexuality may be short and simple, but they hold such a strong power behind them: “I’m gay.” Most people are well aware of that and many are extremely proud of someone in sports for taking such a brave stance before he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday, May 17.
We live in a society where many people in the limelight have taken that brave step and admitted who they really are. For some reason, it becomes scandalous when that person in the spotlight happens to be a sports player. Never mind the fact that Michael Sam is quite talented and the right man for the job. Almost every headline surrounding the draft pick seems to center around his sexuality or that he kissed his loving boyfriend, Vito Camissano, after he received the news that he was drafted into the Rams.
There is a huge list of celebrities that are popular today that have come out at some point in their careers. Neil Patrick Harris stepped out of the closet in 2006 in the midst of a career high, playing the loving womanizer Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. Singer Ricky Martin revealed his truth in an open letter back in 2010 and is still able to make women swoon over him as his shakes his hips. Jodie Foster somewhat stepped out of her very private comfort zone during an acceptance speech at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards and married her longtime girlfriend earlier this month. Angelina Jolie has always been open about her attraction and relationships with both sexes, well before she dated and eventually became engaged to actor Brad Pitt. Of course, all of those people are either actors, actresses and singers. Their jobs are usually to play to some type of role, whether it happens to be the lead in a movie or a sex symbol on a concert stage. Sam is in essence, playing himself. He seems to be gaining a lot of notoriety for being a football player and being gay, but we should remember that Michael Sam is not the first sports person to come out while actively playing.
Earlier this year, the young English diver Tom Daley revealed via a YouTube video that he was dating a man, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Darren Young, a WWE (World Wresting Entertainment) Superstar revealed he was gay back in 2013, when he was asked if there ever could be a pro wrestler who happened to be gay. Understandably, not many active sports players from any field are jumping at the chance to admit to the world that they love someone of the same-sex. The really sad thing about it is that they are out there.
It’s pretty obvious. If one believes the widely expressed statistic that one out of every 10 people are gay, chances are that there are quite a few celebrated athletes who are still in the closet. Of course, one also remembers a sad stereotype that revealing that side of oneself suddenly means that person isn’t “man enough” to be a part of something that they love. The one thing that made them special, whether it be to throw a three pointer from really far away or smack a ball out of a baseball park, become ignored. It is never that there is an athlete who happens to be gay. It always turns that person into a “gay athlete”.
Deion Sanders, a heterosexual athlete who had success in both football and baseball, knows that there are others out there who are just like Sam.
“He is not the first gay guy in the NFL. He is the first one to come out,” he said during an interview on The Arsenio Hall Show. He also revealed that no matter what team he played on, whether it was in football or in baseball, there was always a gay person on that team.
“We always knew,” he admitted. “But he was cool. That was our boy. We had to look out for him.”
Sam’s admission was not only brave, but many sports insiders think this is a huge step in encouraging others who are athletes to choose to live their lives freely. This is a different time in theworld and while there will always be people who do not or will not see eye-to-eye on how a person lives their life off the field, it is still surprising to see such an explosion of shock and awe for someone who is simply being who he really is.
At the end of the day, Michael Sam is a football player. Perhaps at some point in the future, the world will understand that no matter who a person shares their life with, all that will truly matter is whether or not a person like Sam can make a key play and bring home a win.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown