In case you missed it, University of Missouri star defensive lineman Michael Sam came out publicly as gay last night in interviews with the New York Times, ESPN, and Outsports.
Sam, the Southeastern Conference's co-defensive player of the year, is widely considered an NFL draft prospect, meaning he could become the first openly gay player in National Football League history.
After coming out, Sam received a whole lot of love. The University of Missouri, whose players and staff have known about Sam's sexual orientation since last year, tweeted out its unconditional support:
Sportswriters, fellow players, the LGBT community, allies, and decent people across the country applauded Sam for taking this brave step and publicly -- and unabashedly -- owning his truth.
But sadly, the reaction was not uniformly positive. In a merciless, innuendo-laden Sports Illustrated article circulating widely on Twitter last night, a group of eight NFL executives and coaches called Sam's announcement a bad move and predicted it would harm his career because the NFL just isn't ready for a gay guy in the locker room. Unlike Sam, though, the NFL officials didn't have the cojones to give their names.
Details, after the jump.
SI writers Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans said they granted the NFL officials anonymity in exchange "for their honesty" (read: homophobia) and summarized their reactions thusly:
In blunt terms, they project a significant drop in Sam's draft stock, a publicity circus and an NFL locker room culture not prepared to deal with an openly gay player. Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was projected as a mid- to late-round draft pick prior to his announcement.
While none of the executives overtly condemned Sam's decision, their opinions illuminated an NFL culture in which an openly gay player -- from the draft room to the locker room -- faces long odds and a lonely path.
A former general manager said that Sam's decision to be honest about who he is presented a "potential distraction" that could prevent him from being chosen in the NFL draft.
"That will break a tie against that player," the former general manager said. "Every time. Unless he's Superman. Why? 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?'"
The former general manager said that it would take an NFL franchise with a strong owner, savvy general manager and veteran coach to make drafting Sam work. He rattled off franchises like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore and Indianapolis as potential destinations. The former general manager added that a team with a rookie head coach would not be an ideal landing spot.
Recognize that word, "distraction"? It was the same word the Minnesota Vikings used to justify firing straight ally Chris Kluwe for his LGBT rights advocacy.
An assistant personnel director actually brought Kluwe up by name:
"You're going to have to have one confident general manager or head coach that is certainly entrenched in his position and established to draft a player like that. It's one thing to have Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo, advocates for gay rights, on your team. It's another to have a current confirmed player."
This same guy also had the gall to suggest that the presence of a gay player would be so toxic as to "chemically imbalance" whatever team had the misfortune of picking him -- because, you know, gay dudes aren't manly enough. Oh, and because football players like to call each other faggots. Seriously.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. 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. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
A current NFL assistant coach said that Sam's decision was "not a smart move" and that it would "legitimately [affect] potential earnings."
"There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that. There's nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It's going to be a big distraction. That's the reality. It shouldn't be, but it will be."
Yeah, it could definitely be a distraction to have a Ghey Player in the locker room. He might even, you know, look at other players and stuff!
And perhaps unintentionally, an anonymous NFL scout perfectly encapsulated the blend of cowardice and bigotry that has enabled rampant homophobia to flourish virtually unchecked in professional football for decades. Remarking about Sam's draft prospects, he said,
"I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down. There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier?'"
Well dudes, guess what? The issue you've long sought to avoid has been dropped squarely in your lap: Michael Sam, a phenomenally and undeniably talented player widely expected to make it into the NFL, has decided to tell the truth about who he is: an out and proud gay man. The ball is now in your court.
Put simply, there is absolutely no legitimate reason that a player of Sam's caliber shouldn't be picked up by an NFL team in May's draft. If he's skipped over, it won't be because he lacks talent, but because pro football owners, managers, players, and staff lack the spine to do what real men do: stand up to homophobia. It would also prove that the league's much-touted sexual orientation-inclusive nondiscrimination policy isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
And I'd call that a major fumble.