Michael Sam was drafted yesterday to the St. Louis Rams. Together, they made history.
Ordinarily, a defensive end being drafted isn't a big deal. Dozens of defensive ends were drafted yesterday by teams eager for an aggressive pass rush.
It is, however, a big deal when that player is the first, openly gay player to ever be drafted by an NFL team.
Regardless of your views, what Michael Sam did was courageous. It's not easy to expose yourself to criticism. Too often, we shy away from it because that's the natural thing to do. But Sam felt compelled to be himself. We should applaud him for doing so in the face of scutiny and persecution.
Following Sam's admission, several moons ago, a college basketball player revealed that he, too, is gay. Derrick Gordon of UMass basketball, became the first openly gay player in Division I men's basketball. Together, both Sam and Gordon have paved the way for the first ever openly gay Division I college football player. It's only a matter of time. I now sit and wonder whether Florida State, its administration, and supporters can support an openly gay player. We'll get to that in a bit, but first we need to discuss the dynamics of the Michael Sam story.
There's a big reason why Sam decided to make his admission as he enters the NFL.
The NFL is a business and in business, performance is peformance. Performance is blind to race, color, ethnicity, and importantly, whether you are straight or gay.
Performance knows no bias. Well, at least it's supposed to be that way. It's the one of the pillars upon which this country was founded. You know, that whole thing about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Michael Sam is a living example of those very words; he's living his life, the way he wants to because he is free and able to make his own decisions that make him happy. So, then, what's the hang up? Why is this story such a big deal? It's because we are not, as a society, ready to accept and confront homosexuality.
The funny thing about America is that it began as a refuge. This country was founded on many freedoms, but apparently, being gay is not one of those freedoms that we're yet willing to accept.
This country was also founded on the belief that you can make a name for yourself if you just work hard enough (i.e., performance). Apparently, however, we can't let Michael Sam, or any other gay athlete for that matter, live their life and pursue their dreams because they happen to be gay. If our country truthfully depended on performance, we wouldn't care whether someone was gay, straight, green, or purple. The problem is that the person gets engulfed in the story and it has become too difficult to separate Michael Sam the player from Michael Sam the story.
American was founded on principles that made it progressive but the backlash to the story of Michael Sam taught us that we, collectively, are anything but progressive.
Our society is much like a chain link fence: its only as good as the weakest link. And the comments in response to Michael Sam being drafted by the Rams showed us that we have quite a few weak links.
And it got me thinking: could Florida State, its administration, and its supporters, support a gay player on the football team?
Let that thought sink in for a second. Could you support a gay player on the Florida State football team?
My answer? Well, duh, of course. But you can count me among the group of more progressive thinkers, although I admit I am a bit of traditionalist. No, not in the traditional sense of a man and a woman, but the tradition upon which this country was established. The tradition that you are who you are and that you have the freedom to be who you are. And that we will judge you based on your performance, not only professional but socially, because that's what defines us as people and not the color of our skin, our ethnicity, or whether we are straight or gay.
Can Florida State sustain that kind of thinking and support a gay player? I'd like to think so and while it shouldn't be a big deal, it unfortunately it is. I do feel, however, that any locker room run by Jimbo Fisher is one of acceptance. Jimbo believes that your character is what defines you and nothing else. It's one of the many reasons why Jimbo is so successful.
If you are upset by this conversation, then I've done my job. Because one day, Florida State will have an openly gay football player on its roster. And now, given the path laid by Michael Sam, it's time for us to start opening up to the idea. We apparently have little to no reservation about supporting players who are accused of sexual assault or otherwise. So how do we reconcile the two?
In time, Michael Sam will just play football. He'll show that there is no boogie man to be afraid of or or run from. That he's just a man and is just like the rest of us, trying to live the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.