Let’s not kid ourselves, Michael Sam coming out as gay before the NFL draft is huge. In the aftermath of Sam’s earth shaking revelation, many were quick to applaud Sam for his courage to come out. Others thought that he should have just stayed quiet and go about his business under the radar. Finally, there are those that thought Sam was just looking for some publicity and it does not mean anything.
But it does, Sam’s coming out does more for the progress of gay athletes in sports than any other figure in this movement. In the past year, Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers both came out and were applauded. The difference between these two and Sam is that both of their coming outs had been painful for them. Collins came out at the end of his career after he had been in the NBA since 2001, during which he tried to hide his sexuality. Rogers came out and then promptly retired from soccer before coming back and signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Both of those incidents highlight that Collins and Rogers were afraid to be who they were in the sport they loved. Michael Sam definitely has some demons in his history and has had struggles but he refused to be ashamed of his sexuality. While Rogers and Collins should be remembered for finally coming forward and sharing part of their lives, Sam did not think about his future or his standing in the league. He wanted to make sure that he did not have to compromise part of himself for his job, that is how the real change will come. Sam is happy with who he is and wants to make sure that people understand that.
Sam will have a tough road to walk once he gets to the NFL, but if he is successful he can really change the narrative of gays in sports. Young men that are playing sports but do not think they continue to play and be accepted will see that skill is all that matters. Players that are already in the league will see that they can still be super stars and not have to live in the closet. All those sports fans out there that are gay will not have to feel like they do not have a place.
Michael is not a guarantee to pan out in the NFL, sure he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year but he is still undersized. There will be NFL general managers do not want to introduce the perceived “distraction” into the locker room. There will be players that do not believe he should be there. If he is able to address his shortcomings and become a star in the NFL, he will not the the last significant athlete to come out but he will be the start of the end of sexuality being an issue.