These opinions are mine. They are the opinions of an "openly straight," former HS and college football player, former college football coach, and an Independent voting, beer drinking, steak eating man. ~Matthew Juaire (I wanted to make sure to put my name next to my thoughts...)
Some news came out last night. It landed on the interwebs with the subtlety of a habanero pepper mixed with Goldschlager. By now the entire sports world knows that Michael Sam, hopeful NFL Draft pick, is openly gay. This past season, Sam was the co-SEC defensive player of the year and the first unanimous All-American for Missouri in 53 years. Sam's draft stock and evaluation has been all over the board, but there is little doubt, Michael Sam is a fantastic football player.
Now to the reason any of you are reading this. Last night the NY Times broke the story that Michael Sam is gay. What makes this story special? For starters, The NFL has never had an openly gay player. That's probably enough, but to expound: Sam, is only beginning this journey, and has added a large amount of pressure on the football watching public, the NFL brass, and players to accept him. Sam has added a large amount of pressure to his own shoulders to succeed. And lastly, Michael Sam has in one period of viral internet awareness, thrown himself into the lead pack of LGBT torch bearers. It's not insignificant; it is historic, and I'll be prudent in holding my judgments on just how historic, until we see how much additional change this affects. However, there is no doubt Michael Sam is a pioneer for equality in the LGBT community and in this country.
You will undoubtedly read and hear opinions about every angle this story takes, for there are many subtopics to discuss. But make no mistake; the target now falls squarely on the NFL and its organizations. There are already stories out (Deadspin) where "anonymous" NFL GMs, twelve of them to be exact, ALL think this will either hurt his draft stock or cause him to be undrafted altogether. You'll read great stories (Fox Sports) about how this puts Michael Sam into a category of historic figures in American History. You'll probably read some bigotry on Twitter, and find lots of praise and encouragement on Facebook. I just googled Michael Sam, and it came back with 1 trillion, 120 million hits....granted not all were pertaining to him specifically with a common first and last name...but still, DANG!. It is not possible to avoid it, if you're paying attention to the news, any news. I'm going to specifically target the Deadspin article, those NFL execs, and a few quotes they were too cowardly to put their names next to.
Let me throw some thoughts into the ring. And by thoughts, I mean some tough truths to any of those NFL execs who think that the NFL is a "man's man game" and that somehow EXCLUDES Michael Sam. I'm going to firmly pass my opinion about the sorry excuse of an NFL exec who thinks that the NFL isn't ready for an openly gay player yet...but might be in 10-20 years. And lastly I'm going to keyboard slap the NFL exec who asserts that not ONE of the 32 teams, owners, and organizations will be willing to "break the barrier." Buckle in, because I'm fixin' to assassinate the ideas of these old, tired, anonymous NFL Execs who aren't willing to accept, or are too stupid to see, that change is upon us NOW! Not in 10-20 years.
It's near impossible to provide accurate information about what players will approve, and what players will be uncomfortable with a gay teammate. It's just not reality to try and pinpoint how many players or managers believe this would be a "locker-room disruption," because we can't interview them all, and many of them wouldn't put their names to it anyway. The sample just wouldn't be right. So let's look at this from a broader perspective. This country has elected a VERY liberal president for two consecutive terms, a president who has been very vocal about gay rights. While the entire country doesn't agree on the issue of gay marriage, or any issue for that matter, there is a very real trend as to how the American public is viewing gay marriage. Before 2003, zero states had legal same sex marriage. Since 2003, 17 states have legalized same sex marriage, and in 9 of those states the public voted to overturn a previous ban. Conversely, as recently as 2010, 41 States had a ban on gay marriage going back to 1979 (Wisconsin), and in the last 3-4 years that number has dropped to 33 (Great chart shows the progression and current trend). In light of this data regarding the whole of our country, I say to the NFL execs who don't think the NFL is ready for change now; "WAKE UP."
The NFL is in America, played and coached by Americans, owned and operated by Americans. Get your heads out of your asses, and do some reading NFL bosses. The country is speaking in a progressively strengthened voice about what we're ready for. The NFL has had gay players playing in it for years; this only changes it from a "not so good" secret to the reality that exists. It is not your job to tell the public what your league is ready for, it is your job to foster a workplace that protects and respects its employees. You've shown you're tolerant of: Blacks, Whites, Asians, Mexicans, Republicans, Democrats, murderers, wife beaters, bar fighters, drinking and driving, fake girlfriends who never existed, and liars.....How could you POSSIBLY not be ready for an openly gay black guy with no criminal record and a college degree? And if YOU think your locker-room is not ready, then you damn well better get it ready, because it's happening and it's happening this year.
Next up, is the genius who asserted that no NFL teams want to be the one to "break the barrier." Sure thing, boss. Because this country HATES to break down barriers...riiiight (Sarcasm font). Please find me another society in the history of this planet that was or is more progressive than ours. Please find an example out there of a country that has been around for as short a time as the USA, and has pushed the limits of damn near everything to the degree we have? I'll be here waiting; you can comment on this story at the bottom when you've got an example, you simple-minded schmuck. How about I bring it closer to home, and bring up a less global example and aim directly at the NFL. Dan Rooney says "hello." Mr. Rooney introduced a "barrier breaking" rule into the NFL regarding black coaches in 2003, and the jury is in on its success. It worked, it is accepted, and it will continue to improve the diversity and success of the NFL. How is accepting an openly gay player similar? Well, think about how many gay football players quit because of the culture that exists. Do you think out of that group, some may have been successful? Do you think out of that group some could help the NFL and its teams put better products on the field? At the very least, do you think some of these men would support the NFL more throughout their lives if openly gay players played and were accepted? Use your brain; of course it is good for the NFL. Oh, and another barrier breaker just texted me: Jackie Robinson said to GTFO.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, to the ignorant gentleman who mentioned that the NFL is still a "man's man game." On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that statement. The problem is, you said it with context that excluded Michael Sam as a "man," and I beg to differ. If I could get Michael Sam and you into a room together, I'd wager you would come out of the room in agreement with me. Michael Sam is a man, a proud one, a talented one, a physically and mentally strong man, and if his entire team and coaching staff at Missouri knew he was gay, accepted him and supported him during a great year, I would recommend you talk to those MEN about how Michael Sam will handle being a professional. If you think he's not heard a gay slur or a homophobic remark before in his 15+ years of playing football, then you truly are as pathetic as that remark you made. It should be the job of you NFL execs to create an environment where men of all kinds can be together with a common goal of winning games. Michael Sam has always been gay, his history to date show's he's plenty a man to handle the NFL, it would be wise for the NFL to be manly enough to support him and the help lift the weight of the cross he's borne for this long. And maybe the real men in the NFL can help teach tolerance and strength to the next generation of football players.
I've been in several locker-rooms in my life. Not an NFL locker-room, but one full of 100 college football players. Odds tell me there were gay players on that team. I look back with hindsight and can honestly say, I would not have cared less, as long as that guy in the locker-room was respectful, doing his job, and helped our team win. The notion that people would be uncomfortable with this is real. But there are PLENTY of things about people that make other people uncomfortable, and the NFL survives just fine. White players using the "N" word, Tim Tebow's religion, players hitting women...you don't think people are uncomfortable with this stuff? Of course they are. Yet, the NFL carries on just fine, and it will with openly gay players as well. The NFL better be ready for it, because it's happening now. This is the right time, because Michael Sam said it is. It's his choice, and he'll handle all the negatives along with the positives. Many ignorant souls will certainly persecute him for this. But the NFL had better not be one of those parties...for Michael Sam is about to be one of you. Deal with it.