“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am: I’m Michael Sam, I’m a college graduate, I’m African American and I am gay.” – Michael Sam
There comes a time in every sport when athletes must choose to either accept something new or reject the inevitable. The National Football League is currently in this situation. On Feb. 9, Michael Sam, NFL prospect from the University of Missouri, came out of the closet and has since received attention across the world. Sam’s reveal has and will continue to draw strong, largely supportive reactions, although some people have raised questions because of his disclosure of the truth.
Many football fans met the news with indifference because it was expected to happen eventually. In a sport in which top athletes have killed people in drunk driving, have been caught with drugs and prostitutes and have been accused of rape, being gay is not a situation that should be frowned upon. There is so much hypocrisy in the statement that players will not be comfortable with a gay player in the locker room while they are perfectly content with convicted felons roaming there.
Still, the biggest question is a question of how well Sam will fit in an NFL locker room with 52 other players. The NFL locker room is one of the most difficult places to earn respect, especially if you are coming into it as a rookie. There is no secret that the rookies are constantly hazed as a form of initiation to the brotherhood that is the NFL. Sam must take the locker room jokes and jests in stride to earn respect from his future teammates.
Sam must also know that he is living under a microscope at all times. In football, the players hate the media and most are disgusted with reporters and cameras in the locker room. Every move that Sam makes will be covered by the media and his future teammates may resent the attention that a single player on a 53-man roster is getting. Regardless, the only way to break the barrier down effectively is for everyone around him to treat him no differently than any other rookie on the team.
The predicament of having a gay athlete on a professional team will be an outrageous topic in years to come. In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson was met with a lot of controversy that today’s world could not believe had ever existed. Sam has the opportunity to create a similar situation.