Wick Communications

Sexual orientation in the NFL

In Ethics on February 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm
Michael Sam / AP

Michael Sam / AP

Is the sexual orientation of a professional football player really news? To tell you the truth, I’ve waffled on my own answer in the wake of Michael Sam’s public acknowledgement that he is gay. I think I’ve finally settled on an answer.

In case you’ve been living in a cave, Sam is the graduating senior from the University of Missouri who tackled everything in his path in his last season as a defensive lineman for the Tigers. He was so good that he was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Though a bit undersized for his position, he appears headed to the NFL. When it became clear that scouts and others knew what had been an open secret on campus, Sam decided to out himself. If signed, he will be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

So that’s news, right?

Let’s stipulate that one’s sexual preference would seem to have precious little to do with football or any other sport for that matter. There is physical contact between players, and I guess that is where the cringe originates for some. But catching a pass in a football game bears no relation to making a pass at the bar. I couldn’t care less whether any of my coworkers are gay. It just isn’t germane to what we do at work as reporters or football players, so I was in the “who cares” camp initially.

I have been convinced otherwise by a series of good columns, including Jason Gay’s nice take in the Wall Street Journal.

The story certainly passes the most basic is-this-news test: It’s a first. Say what you will about Sam, his announcement takes courage for that reason if no other. It is simply astounding that, in the history of the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA, there has never been a single player who came out as gay while he was playing. It is also relevant given the ongoing Olympics in orientation-challenged Russia. It’s a good human interest story, if nothing else. …

Further, this is a story with legs. Unlike last year’s big pre-NFL draft story – about Manti Te’O and his make-believe Internet girlfriend – this one isn’t merely a curiosity. It’s an important coming out party for people in your community who have been led to believe they aren’t masculine enough to play professional sports. It’s the beginning of a nationwide conversation. It’s the story of a pioneer making his way in one of the last remaining workplaces where it has been perfectly OK to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If Jackie Robinson was news, so is Michael Sam.

I think this is a big story even if I missed it at first. How about you?

Clay

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