Two thoughts came to mind after hearing the news about Michael Sam:
1. Good for him.
2. Who’s Michael Sam?
Of course, now we know. Sam was a defensive lineman at the University of Missouri. He was the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
He’s also a few months away from becoming the first ever openly gay, active NFL player. And seeing how Jason Collins never found another job, Sam will also become the first ever openly gay, active player in any of the four major professional sports. He’s a big deal. He’s a piece of history. And all it took was two words:
Like most people, I’m looking forward to a time when this isn’t a story anymore. And I’m hopeful that it won’t be too long before we get there. In this case, to the point where an athlete will announce that he’s gay, and the world will barely notice. Eventually, where no one will feel the need to even announce it because no one will care. Because homosexuality in sports (and obviously, society) will just be widely accepted for exactly what it is: Nothing. Just people being people. People trying to live honest, open and happy lives.
Obviously, we’re not quite there yet. Last night, after Sam’s announcement, SI.com published a story featuring a collection of quotes from anonymous personnel from around the NFL.
“I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game.”
“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. "There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’ ”
“Not that they're against gay people. It's more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’”
Shortly after that, Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) upped the ante with this tweet:
“One GM told me he doesn't think Sam will be drafted.”
I could waste my breath (and your time) challenging the ignorance in comments like these. But I’d rather just ignore them. Of course, I’m not saying we should ignore the fact that these people and these opinions exist, but just that there’s no point in engaging them. It won’t do any good. If you feel like traveling down that road, do a Twitter search for “Michael Sam homo” and spend the rest of your day getting angry. Or don’t. In this case, just ignore it and focus on the positive.
Which is that, despite the opinions of four anonymous NFL tipsters, Michael Sam will be drafted.
Before his announcement, CBS Sports had Sam ranked as the ninth best defensive lineman in the draft and the 90th best player overall. Historically, the last seven SEC Defensive Players of the Year have all gone on to be first-round picks.
Sam was never projected to go that high. Most experts did and still do have him slated as a fourth-to-seventh round pick. That’s where he’ll go. Even if there are five or 10 more GMs who don’t want him, at least one will. That’s all it takes. Someone will draft him. Then we can all start rooting for Sam to succeed so that at some point down the road every GM who ignored him will have to answer for it. So that one day, one of them will get a call from his owner saying:
“OK, GM X. So we passed on Michael Sam five times on the final day of the 2014 draft. Now he’s great. He’s been to two Pro Bowls. Meanwhile, no one that we drafted instead of him is even still on the team. So what’s the deal? Why didn’t you take him again? Oh, right: because he’s gay. Well, this is me firing you now. Take care.”
That’s the best-case scenario: That Michael Sam is drafted and becomes a great player — a gay NFL superstar! — and once and for all teaches the sports world how ridiculous it is to allow an athlete’s sexuality to influence whether or not you want him on your team.
Worst-case scenario: Sam’s just not that good. Like many Day 3 NFL Draft picks, he never catches on or gets injured and quickly fades from the spotlight. In that case, it will be unfortunate but not a lost cause.
That's because, regardless of what happens from here on out, Sam (along with Collins) has already helped clear the path. If he doesn’t knock the wall down himself, he’s made it easier for the guy who eventually will. And for the many athletes (young and old) who will come out before and after that.
At the very least, he's initiated progress.
And brought us one step closer to having this "issue" no longer be an issue at all.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine