So Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, the best defensive player in the SEC last year, has proclaimed that he is gay.
At least that is what I hope will be the reaction by the NFL, Sam's future employer. Sam has taken a huge step for gay athletes by making this announcement prior to the 2014 NFL draft -- he will be eligible for that draft and is considered a mid- to late-round pick.
Some team will draft Sam -- or if not that then certainly bring him to a training camp as an undrafted free agent. That team should shrug his shoulders and pick him, because being gay doesn't affect his ability to play football. I would be happy for the team that chooses him to be the Panthers. Some team is going to hire him for his football ability -- Sam (6-2, 260) will likely be turned into a linebacker in the NFL -- but then will have the spotlight shone upon it as Sam tries to make the team and perform well.
That team will need some backbone and some courage to do this. Certainly not as much as Sam has had to come out as gay in this testosterone-fueled sport, but enough to realize that everything it does with Sam will be put under a microscope for awhile.
No NBA team ever picked up Jason Collins, who announced last April that he was gay in a first-person Sports Illustrated story. Collins was a free agent at the time and had hoped to be picked up by an NBA team this fall. Didn't happen. But Collins was also nearing the end of his career - he is now 35 -- and NBA teams would tell you this was a basketball decision not to sign him and based on nothing else.
For Sam, the situation is far different. He is at the beginning of his career, not the end. He had 11.5 sacks last season in college. He told his teammates at Missouri before this past season ever began. They supported him, kept his secret, and he ended up having a stellar season just like his team did.
Sam won't be the first gay NFL player -- from a statistical standpoint, there have almost certainly been dozens of them by now.
But he will be the first openly gay player in this situation, where he's about to have a whole series of job interviews with NFL teams and everyone knows this about him. He said he is proud to tell the world his story. We should be proud, too, that we live in a country where he is free to tell it.
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