NFL Game Of Acceptance

Picture this: 48 minutes after a game more closely resembling a battle fought with comrades, brothers, what could be more soothing than a shower?  And what if said brethren, who lines up for work beside you, takes a block from an opposing defender for you, eats dinner with you, and happens to be gay?

Michael Sam recently announced to the public that he, a first team All American and AP Defensive Player of the Year, is gay.  Mind you, this is three months before the NFL Draft where Sam is projected to be a high draft pick.

His NFL career now in jeopardy, one NFL general manager anonymously said that if Sam’s value depreciates past the third round in the draft, then “something stinks.” So is the NFL ready for an openly gay player?

Now Sam can quite clearly play, and he may be able to carve an outstanding NFL career for himself. He will not be denied as an athlete if he is able to prove his value on the field. Yet it is precisely what happens off the field; in the locker room, in the showers, amongst other players and the media where Sam will be noticed.

The pressure Sam must face as the first active gay player in the NFL, and the distraction he will provide to the team will be enormous.  A quick look through social media platforms like Twitter will reveal how divided players are on the issue.

One NFL player says: “Half of the NFL’s locker rooms will accept him and half won’t. It’s a roll of the dice whether he would be accepted or not,” showing that while some players will be highly supportive and tolerant of Sam, many will not be.

As a casual fan, player production on the field is the foremost priority.  Sam was a dominant defensive force when he played for the Missouri Tigers, recording 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a senior.  If he can replicate his success in the NFL, then I’m a fan.  But if he cannot produce as a player, then yank him off the field; gay or not.

As a human being though, who does in fact have membership into our larger society, I certainly hope that the NFL can welcome Sam.

The culture across many sports, including football, places its confidence in the strong and masculine.  There is no greater derogatory insult in sports than being labeled as “soft.”  It is this resilient, merciless, rah-rah mentality that sustains sports, and consistently captivates our undivided attention.

For Sam, who has earned his number 90 rank amongst all college prospects through actual football production, this division in public perception now that the world knows he is gay, is unfortunate.

Our attention is instead directed at Sam’s sexual orientation, rather than the orientation at which he attacks the gap on his way toward cracking the opposing quarterback.

Sam’s actions and sexual orientation will lead the media to scrutinize him on and off the field.  He will be seen as a distraction in the locker room.  Players will drop ear-screeching insults as often as they drop passes.

But many more will see Sam as a pioneer for sports and for others like him.  Some already embrace Sam for his courage and his character, and for his actions, he should be respected and admired, both as a football player and as a person.

With his announcement, the ball has already been snapped and Michael Sam is rushing with a full head of steam.  So look out NFL, he’s a coming, whether you’re ready or not.

 

Ryan Chen is a third-year English major. He can be reached at ryanlc@uci.edu.