On Michael Sam, the NFL and open arms? (Jesse Ferguson, @__JesseTheMan)

Everyone around sports in North America is talking about Michael Sam. You would think it may lessen the story’s magnitude by dropping the disclosure of his sexual orientation during the Olympics, but it has still made waves, nonetheless. The NFL is North America’s number one sport (of the four major sports… by such a margin that saying, “large” hardly does it justice) and stories of importance in the cradle of America’s sporting jewel just don’t fly by with no one noticing.

Michael Sam is a beast of a player. He was voted with All-American honours in his senior year at Missouri at defensive end, recording 11.5 quarterback sacks and 19 tackles for a loss, leading the SEC in both categories. Such collegiate achievements surely rank him high on NFL draft boards. Many draft analysts had Sam going in the third round of the upcoming NFL draft.

This is burying the lede, however (or lead, if you prefer). The importance of this is that Sam would become the first openly gay player in the NFL, and the first openly gay player in these four major North American sports. All the media outlets are jumping for joy and saying, “It’s about time!” but I’m a bit more skeptical… not that he’s actually gay (I’ll take his word for it), or that it’s about time for an athlete of a major sport to come out (no opinion), but I’m not so sure that the NFL will be so arms-wide-open towards a player being openly gay.

Because I am skeptical you may raise your eyebrows and label me as a “hater”, but hear me out (and for the record, I am not a hater. I couldn’t care less about which side of the plate you swing from, even if you’re a switch-hitter). I am skeptical of his acceptance because of a few like recent sports-related items.

Item #1 – When Jason Collins came out of the closet as an NBA player at the twilight of his career, he was a free agent. Virtually all NBA analysts figured he had more to give and he would be picked up and signed by a team before the start of the season. He had five months before training camps opened to get himself ready.

Collins was a serviceable NBA player, averaging 4 points and 4 boards in just 20 minutes of play during his 11-year career. You can’t tell me that no one with a hole at centre couldn’t use his contributions as a backup. Nor could they seem to use Collins as a leader for a younger team with a younger centre for him to show the ropes to. If you’re all about the bottom-line, Collins would be a surefire cash-grab as attention on him would be immense… meaning attention on your team would be immense. There’s no way you can tell me that cash-poor teams couldn’t use the extra flow. And yet, even with these benefits listed, 44 games into the season, Collins still finds himself as a free agent. Puzzling? Maybe not so. 

Michael Wilbon of the popular ESPN program, Pardon the Interruption, said he figured the NBA to have an athlete come out first, where the bravado is a notch down from the NFL. Yet still, Collins is unsigned. So how will Sam do in the NFL? I’m not sure I like his chances.

Item #2 – If you want to use an NFL reference point, okay. Jonathan Martin seems to be a valid place. Martin is not gay – though a particular person’s texts seemed to doubt this. Nevertheless, Martin, at the time of the Miami Dolphins, deemed the hazing to be unmanageable and left the team. If this was just ‘hazing’ not of any specific reason, then how will someone who’s actually gay be treated? By being “out of the closet” is to be different from teammates. Why wouldn’t Sam face the same pressures that Martin did for that reason?

It’s hard to say he won’t, but maybe Sam being openly gay will make that type of hazing out of bounds…? There are places that people will shy away from when hazing, but not all. The point of hazing is to harass to get a reaction from the hazed person, edging them on to fight back and show they won’t take any s___. In this case, Sam’s hazers look to have an endless supply of ammo. 

Lastly, another reason of skepticism for the NFL’s real taste for an openly gay player lays within the mock-draftboard. Remember that he was projected as third-round pick in this year’s draft? Well, that was before the announcement that he’s gay. Since, CBS Sports reports that Sam’s chances of being drafted “began to drop because he announced he was gay.” Sports Illustrated, talking to NFL coaches and executives, said, “In blunt terms, they project a significant drop in Sam’s draft stock,” since “ NFL locker room culture is not prepared to deal with an openly gay player.”

Sam is about to test the waters of the NFL– sports’ shining armour, the big dog of masculinity. He may need your wishes for good luck. The NFL is the big dog in North American sports, and while Sam could set new parameters across sports, he also very easily may not. While most view this as a major step forward for progressive-behaviour in the NFL, I’m suggesting the possibility that it may be just the opposite. For the people applauding him now, remember, he is not on a roster yet. To those who think the hard part’s over for Sam now with the announcement, I wish you to proceed with caution and perhaps adjust your anticipation accordingly. Sam is being praised now, but so was Jason Collins when he came out. Where is Collins now? He is somewhere that Michael Sam hopes not to be… floating in obscurity as a “free agent”.

In North America’s major sports, being free may have costly repercussions.

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