By this time we have all heard about the up-and-coming NFL star Michael Sam, a defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, who just recently came out as a gay man.
Now normally this would not be that big of deal; people come out to their loved ones every day. The thing is, however, this could lead to the NFL’s first openly gay football player. Now, to a lot of people, it’s not that big of deal: Okay, he’s gay. So what? How could that possibly affect his playing or anything else that has to do with football? But to many this could change the game forever. Several news organizations have even started referring to Sam as “the next Jackie Robinson” because of the challenges and criticism he may face from NFL fans and maybe even other football players.
Asking around campus however, students seem relatively okay with the idea of an openly gay football player. “Absolutely the NFL is ready for an openly gay player,” said freshman Torey Rohloff. “An ex-general manager of an NFL team said he had two gay players on his team in the 80s and his team was more than okay with it. It’s a different time now than it was in the 1980s and we should be even more accepting than we were over 30 years ago.”
With this comment, you can not help but find yourself hoping that we are more open-minded than those from 30 years ago. With an overwhelming positive response from college students, I have found that this may be the case. Public figures are also standing up in support of Sam’s decision to come out, including First Lady Michelle Obama and openly gay talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
With every thumbs up, there is sure to be a thumbs down. Let’s face it; there will always be people out there that will not be comfortable with an openly gay football player. That’s just the way it is. Habits are hard to break, and people, especially the older generation, may not be as accepting as others would hope. Because of this, will Sam truly become the next Jackie Robinson? Will he prove the critics wrong and change the history of sports forever? It seems like a lot of pressure for a kid not much older than many of us.
Thinking about it, is it really fair for us to look to this NFL hopeful to change the opinions of those who are against gay rights? Sam is sure to get criticized and may even receive death threats because he came out. It takes a strong mind and a lot self-restraint to take that much hatred in stride. I know that I would not be able to handle it.
Another thought that I am sure has crossed Sam’s mind several times is the fear that this might prevent him from being drafted. Could his football career end before it even truly begins? This upcoming draft will surely be the most anticipated draft to date, with everyone wondering if Sam will be given a chance and become the first openly gay NFL player. But even if Sam doesn’t get drafted, he has already changed NFL history. By his coming out, other NFL players may also finally feel comfortable coming out of the closet themselves. Sometimes all it takes is one voice to evoke change, after all.
Natalie Howell is a student at UW-River Falls.