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Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams is an important step for gay athletes in the NFL and other professional sports. While the defensive end was drafted with the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, Sam still has to make the team. If the former University of Missouri payer does join the roster for the Rams next season, it could be a major step in the state law regarding gay couples and employees.
While Sam is not new to the state, if he does become a rostered member of the Rams, he will become a high-profile employee in Missouri. It would also make the 24-year old the first openly gay player in the NFL. The employment laws in Missouri currently do not favor gay employees. Sam, along with any gay, lesbian or transgender worker in the state can have their employment terminated by employers without question. During the hiring process, there is no law against an employer asking if a prospective employee is gay and then not hiring them for not being straight.
With Sam a member of the Rams, he could become a major leader of the states LGBT community. The draft pick may be the push needed to pass House Bill 1930, which faced public hearings in March of this year. The bill, known as the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA) would expand the Human Rights Statute of Missouri to include the LGBT individuals. MONA would protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents of the state from workplace discrimination.
If Michael Sam being drafted by the Rams helps to change the law, it would be a major step towards equality a gay professional athlete has made. If the former University of Missouri player is able to avoid being cut by the Rams, he would become the first openly gay athlete in the NFL, but not the first in professional sports. Earlier this season, Jason Collins was signed by the Brooklyn Nets making him the first openly gay NBA player. Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy announced that he was gay early in 2013. However, if Michael Sam can help to change state law, he would become the first gay athlete in professional sports to be a major factor in LGBT equality.
Missouri will need to seriously consider the MONA bill that has awaited the house’s decision since March. Sam, who has shown his national popularity since being drafted, came in 2nd behind Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel in rookie jersey sales this weekend. The Rams draft pick has fans all over the nation, and their eyes are going to be on the state’s lawmakers as the MONA bill is voted on.
The NFL has already shown Sam and the league that there will be zero tolerance for anything negative toward any gay athletes in the league. Miami Dolphins defensive end Don Jones is the first to feel the wrath of the league. After the Rams drafted Michael Sam out of Missouri, the 249th pick was shown sharing a celebratory kiss with his partner. This drew a negative response from Jones on Twitter which resulted in the NFL fining the Dolphins defensive end. Jones has also been suspended from team activities until he goes through a tolerance education class. Jones has apologized to Sam and the Dolphins since the social media incident. The quick action by the NFL could end up being another major influence on the state of Missouri to change the law.
Commentary by Carl Auer