Imagine: It’s the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl XLIX between, and let’s really pretend here, the Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning and the Broncos are driving, about to win the game, until a Detroit rookie linebacker gets an interception to end it. The Lions win, the Detroit crowd goes insane with joy, and the rookie linebacker becomes a hero.
Now, re-imagine the same scenario, only this time, it’s known that the rookie linebacker is homosexual. Does this change the fact that he just helped his team win the biggest sporting event in the world?
The answer is no. Former University of Missouri linebacker and NFL hopeful Michael Sam’s revelation of his sexual orientation, while a landmark moment towards society’s acceptance of LGBTs and an unbelievably courageous choice, has no reason to be the top sports story in the world.
Football, and sports in general, are society’s way of getting away from the real world. After September 11, Americans watched the 2001 New York Yankees come within three outs of winning the World Series and momentarily take a city’s mind off of the horrors that had occurred. Two days after the 2013 Boston bombings, Boston Bruins’ fans openly wept during the American national anthem and looked to hockey for healing.
In the same way, football should be a place where Michael Sam can escape the possible hatred and discrimination he will inevitably receive as the first openly gay player in NFL history. Instead, the football world currently chooses to focus on his lifestyle over his obvious talent.
If any factor of Michael Sam’s life should be acknowledged, it should be his drive to become the best at what he does despite his circumstances. According to “New York Times” reporter Joe Drape, three of Sam’s seven siblings are dead, two are in prison, and he momentarily lived in the back of his mother’s car. His father has publicly stated he does not support his son’s homosexuality, despite his fatherly love.
He overcame all of this to become the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, no small feat in a conference known for its defense and home to seven of the last eight national champions. He is projected to do what many of his football-playing peers only wish they could: play in the NFL.
Yet the media finds that the most important fact in Sam’s life is that he is attracted to other men.
Michael Sam will probably go on to become the most-talked about linebacker in NFL history, good or bad. He may be mentioned alongside hard-hitting legends like Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis. He may become a joke, a draft bust, a player that a team is embarrassed to admit that they made the mistake of drafting. His NFL career is a long way from being determined.
Here’s to hoping that the only reason anyone talks about Michael Sam 20 years from now is because of his courageous decision and his amazing play on the field.