When the 2014 NFL season begins, it is likely to be the first with an openly gay player on a roster.
At least it should be.
On Sunday, Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam officially announced he was gay … something he had already shared with his teammate before he became the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Before Sam’s sexual orientation became “topic No. 1,” some team would have snatched him up by the third round. According to ESPN, Sam said he realized at the Senior Bowl two weeks ago that many in attendance “seemed aware of his sexual orientation.”
Now it’s unclear if an NFL team will be brave enough to draft a player they know will grab headlines for weeks or even months after the May draft.
NFL coaches always want the best 53 players on their roster to give them the best chance to win. It’s all about job security. But who will be the one willing to make a bold statement by drafting Sam?
Whoever drafts Sam will have to believe its locker room can handle it, and have a coaching staff who is accepting of a gay player on the roster. There’s no guarantee, though, as we’ve seen the NFL deal with antigay statements from players like Jonathan Vilma and accusations by former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe that coaches made anti-gay slurs.
Michael Sam is more than good enough to be drafted and more than likely should be playing in the NFL this fall. But is the NFL ready for him?
Sam told the New York Times, “I’m not naïve. I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the NFL.”
This isn’t quite a Jackie Robinson moment, but it is the 21st century equivalent. Based on our early introductions to Sam, he looks like he has the right personality and temperament to take on the challenges that he will face in the future. And let’s be honest, not every player in the NFL is going to be welcoming.
Now we just have to wait and see if there’s an NFL team that will display the same bravery as Sam.