The first Sunday after the Super Bowl. A day of sorrow for many NFL fans, as basketball begins to take the national stage, and baseball is right around the corner. But on this quiet Sunday it wasn’t basketball, or even the Olympics that stole the spotlight, rather the courage of one young man.
Michael Sam is a first team All-American. He is the reigning SEC defensive player of the year. Next year he will be playing football with an NFL team. His family life has been hard. He has had siblings die. He has had siblings go to prison. He was the first member of his family to go to college. He is also gay. And on this football-less Sunday, that is the news that blew the top off of the sporting world. To this point, there has never been an active player in the four major sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) to come out as gay. Jason Collins, an NBA forward, came out last year, but has been a free agent since.
All too often there are negative stories coming from the NFL. I wrote a short piece in the fall highlighting some of that negativity. Whether it’s drugs, DUIs, fights, or even murder, off the field stories for the NFL don’t exactly shed a lot of positive light on the league or its players. Enter Michael Sam. When he takes the field at the end of next summer, he will be the first openly gay NFL player in league history (I want to emphasize openly, as some ex NFL players are gay, and almost assuredly some current players are as well). For a league known for its macho stigma, this is momentous.
The first wave of reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. There have been detractors sure, but the fact that the public support has been almost exclusively positive to this point, shows just how far we as a society have come in just the past few years. There will be many uncomfortable moments, and even hateful ones for Michael Sam, but this young man seems well prepared for whatever may come. This is story that brings a smile to the face, and from a personal standpoint, I have not been more pleased with a narrative surrounding the NFL in my entire life. One day stories like this won’t even be stories, but at a time when the Olympics, an event that is supposed to embrace, celebrate and champion the human spirit, is being held in a country that has made a political decision to be bigoted and close minded, this announcement becomes all the more important. There may not be a more consequential, or historic sports story all year. Hats off to Michael Sam. This is a great day for sport.