Michael Sam, a Missouri Tigers defensive lineman hoping to enter the NFL this spring, announced on Sunday that he is gay. His integration into the league will be a test for the league’s players, coaches, reporters and viewers, i.e., America.
His announcement wasn’t news to his former teammates, who knew about his sexual orientation and supported him all year. But he will be the first openly gay player in any of the top four American professional sports.
Sam would expect to be drafted; he earned All-American honors last season and was the Defensive Player of the Year in his conference. Being picked later in the draft means a much smaller payday, so a suspicious drop for Sam would amount to a pay decrease because of perceived fears in teammates and rejection by fans.
A recent Pew research survey shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that LGBT people should be free from workplace discrimination.
While last year Congress failed to amend the federal workplace discrimination law to include sexual orientation, it’s still a popular proposition that at work, people should be judged solely by their character and performance. However, there seems to be a different attitude when it comes to sports, with the locker room being a focal point.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (who is openly gay) summarizes and deftly dismisses the various fears about homosexuals in the midst of an NFL locker room: There have always been gay people there, and the place is crawling with reporters of all sexes, anyway. He writes that “the anxiety depends on stereotypes of gay men as creatures of preternatural libido.”
“I might be the first, but I won’t be the last,” Sam said to ESPN. Advocates of fair treatment of all people have someone new to root for.
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