on sunday, university of missouri defensive lineman michael sam disclosed his gay identity to the world. sam, the 2013 sec co-defensive player of the year, could become the first nfl player whose homosexuality is self-disclosed. his stunning announcement sent america into a media frenzy, with analysts on cnn, espn, fox sports, nfl network and msnbc weighing in on his possible impact in the nfl.
i've watched a number of talk shows and sense a heightened, somewhat disturbing, anxiety with heterosexual men. when questioned about how to deal with sam's orientation, they attempted to smile and say the right things on television. but they've never had to deal with a man, a black man, who's confident, handsome, talented, open and proud of being gay - before he enters the nfl.
not that the nfl, a multi-billion dollar industry, has other 'issues' to contend with. nfl commissioner roger goodell is currently dealing with annual pro bowl game dissatisfaction, concussion settlements, international expansion, medical marijuana, and their not-for-profit tax status. nonetheless, sam's historic revelation is unprecedented and the league will have to respond to long-standing and recent concerns of anti-homosexual attitudes within the hallowed institution.
just days before playing the baltimore ravens in super bowl 47, san francisco 49ers cornerback chris culliver was interviewed and asked if an openly gay man would be welcomed on an nfl team. said culliver, "i don't do the gays, man. i don't do that. no, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. can't be with that sweet stuff...nah...can't be in the locker room, man. nah."
last year, the manti te'o girlfriend hoax saga was, for some, a media ploy to hide his homosexuality. the former notre dame all-American linebacker vehemently denied such claims. in january 2013, former 49ers offensive tackle kwame harris was charged with felony domestic violence and assault charges involving a former boyfriend. their situations were very different, but the nfl's don't ask, don't tell policy silenced any meaningful discourse on same-sex relationships.
chris kluwe is a free agent, after eight seasons with the minnesota vikings as their starting punter. he's also an ambassador for the pro-lgbt group athlete ally. last month, he wrote a poignant article for deadspin saying he was "pretty confident" the reason the team let him go - rare among nfl punters - in march 2013 was because of his advocacy for lgbt rights.
there have been other gay-identified athletes in the nfl, including wade davis, dave kopay, roy simmons, jerry smith and esera tuaolo. each of these men went public many years after they retired from the game. and, there have been other gay athletes in the nfl who chose not to disclose their orientation publicly. their identity was not a secret to teammates, coaches, general managers and owners.
michael sam, however, is unintentionally, though perhaps by default, forcing the nfl, as well as western society, to "come out." similarly, the nfl, from my perspective, is neither more nor less anti-homosexual than faith-based institutions, fox news, hip hop, historically black colleges and universities, hollywood, or the republican party.
some pundits believe sam will be a third or fourth-round draft pick. others fear his stock will drop considerably because he told the world he's gay. but according to cameron weiss of empire athletes, which represents the personable missouri grad, he's been contacted by 26 of the 32 nfl teams. weiss said, "michael should be drafted in the first two days of the draft."
seven former sec defensive players of the year were chosen in the first round. eric berry, morris claiborne, glenn dorsey, jarvis jones, rolando mcclain, patrick peterson and patrick willis have all enjoyed varying degrees of success after their transition from college ball to the nfl. as such, history is on the side of sam's historical self-disclosure.
last august, sam courageously told his teammates he's an openly gay man. their unequivocal support proved to be liberating. he said, "i could go on campus and go around local gay bars in columbia and not worry about anybody judging me. prior to coming out, i would be in a local restaurant with my boyfriend and coaches would come in and i would feel insecure and want to sneak out."
sam's play on the field was evident of a man with a sense of freedom. his sack total increased from three and a half in his junior year, to 11 1/2 as a senior in 2013. the team finished with a 12-2 record and won the cotton bowl. at 6'2, 260 pounds, he's a ruthless pass rusher with a wing span of nearly seven feet. missouri coach gary pinkel recently said, "michael sam has raised the bar for expectations and excellence."
2014 will be the most anticipated draft in nfl history. everyone will be watching sam's performance in the upcoming nfl combines. everyone will be listening to how he handles the projected media onslaught. but he won't be accepted by everyone. some might become jealous of his attention. players will resent being asked - more than once - how they feel about his sexual orientation.
will someone lose their job for inadvertently (or not) using a homophobic slur on live television?
right before last year's super bowl, former pittsburgh steelers running back and current espn analyst jerome bettis told the huffington post, "you always think because of the odds and the numbers there are gay players in the nfl. they haven't obviously come out and told anyone about it not even behind the scenes."
bettis said, "obviously there will be people who disagree and people who don't have a problem with it, but that will be in life as well. i don't think it is going to affect someone's play. because it is so testosterone driven, it'd be really difficult for a gay player to stand up and say, hey, i'm gay, and i'm an nfl player."
in the spirit of cultural icon, global diva and living legend diana ross, michael sam has literally proclaimed, 'i'm coming out, i want the world to know-oh, got to let it show-oh...i'm coming out, i want the world to know-oh, got to let it show-oh."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.