Last year, NBA player Jason Collins announced to the world that he was gay. Support at first was overwhelming, but the question remained: would anyone sign him? Collins was a free agent at the time, and frankly he wasn’t all that good of a player.
In order for progress to truly be made, someone had to come out who was either established as a top-level player at their position or someone could get there someday.
On Sunday night, it happened: Missouri defensive end and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam announced to the sports world he was gay.
Before I get any further, I’d like to say that Sam has 100 percent of my support. It takes a lot of courage to come out to family and friends, but to do it in front of a national audience takes much, much more.
That being said, it’s unfortunate that the focus shifted immediately to his draft status, but it did. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King interviewed an NFL general manager who said, anonymously, that
he didn’t believe Sam would be drafted. The next day, Sam’s draft ranking on CBS Sports dropped 70 spots from 60 to 130. The only thing different from the day before? The announcement.
That’s ridiculous. There is no reason to discriminae against people based on sexual orientation anymore. I thought we, as a society, had finally started to figure that out now that more and more states are finally beginning to grant equal rights to same-sex couples.
But the world of sports has remained mostly unchanged throughout the reform. Every once in a while, players like Collins will come out, but they’re too deep into their careers to make much of a difference.
Michael Sam won’t be the first gay player to play in the NFL. There are at least four other players who have done so, but they chose to keep their secret until after they retired.
Sam has a chance to help society as a whole take a gigantic step forward. For every player like Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma who believes Sam would be a di
straction there are many more sending out words of encouragement via Twitter and other media outlets.
General managers who say that drafting Sam would be a distraction are only hiding the fact that they don’t want to be known as the guy who drafted the gay player. They are the same people saying the NFL isn’t ready for a gay player.
I think it’s time. NFL locker rooms are made up of players from all over the country with different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. It probably won’t happen overnight, and I’m sure there will be a bit of an adjustment period for the players.
But to deny a talented player the chance to fulfill his dream simply because he wanted to live his life openly is idiotic, and that kind of thinking doesn’t have a place in today’s society.
Garth Shanklin is a junior sports communication major from Williamsburg, Ohio.
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