Sam graduated from the University of Missouri in December. He is a talented football player who is considered a prospect for this spring’s NFL draft. Unlike most of his peers, Sam’s job-interview process will be more intense than the usual handing out of resumes and filling out of applications.
Scouts from National Football League teams measure the talent of football players in various ways — size, strength, speed, intelligence. At an invitation-only job fair known as a combine, prospects are examined closely by representatives of teams that must make multi-million-dollar investments in players. Misjudge a player’s ability to succeed and there are big-time consequences.
Before undergoing this intensive scrutiny, Sam, an all-star defensive end, decided to clear the air with prospective employers and the rest of the world. He announced he is gay.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam said during an interview with The New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
For much of the rest of the sports world — both journalists and fans — Sam’s courageous announcement will dominate conversations the next few days and weeks. The next Sports Illustrated cover asks: “Is the NFL Ready for Michael Sam?”
The question has merit. Published reports suggest some clubs and some team officials aren’t willing to accept a publicly gay player in the lockerroom. SI quotes an unnamed personnel assistant saying, “In the coming decade or two, [an openly gay player] is going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Just like any other groundbreaker in the sports world, Michael Sam can take comfort in that in the long run he will be judged by NFL clubs, teammates and fans based on how he performs on the football field. If he helps his team win, his sexual orientation won’t matter. If he isn’t talented enough to play pro football, being gay won’t make any difference.
“I think that sports, at its best and purest, acts as a meritocracy,” NFL historian Michael MacCambridge told the New Republic. “And what we’re seeing is simply another chapter in the realization that if someone can help you win, it doesn’t matter if that person is black or white... and ultimately, it won’t matter if the person is straight or gay.”
This is something Sam seems to realize, telling reporters that his “role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the NFL.”