Michael Sam is a first-team all-American and the Associated Press named him the defense player of the year in the Southeastern Conference and his teammates at the University of Missouri—who knew he was gay—voted him the team's most valuable player. NYT:
Now Mr. Sam enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape. He is making his public declaration before he is drafted, to the potential detriment to his professional career. And he is doing so as he prepares to enter a league with an overtly macho culture, where controversies over homophobia have attracted recent attention.... Mr. Sam, 24, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the N.F.L. draft in May, ordinarily a path to a prosperous pro career. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed that rumors were circulating. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Mr. Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”
NFL execs—who would only comment if they could stay closeted—are saying that the NFL isn't ready for an openly gay player:
But while initial reaction from players has been almost universally welcoming, the executives who will actually make decisions on drafting Sam have been disappointingly retrograde. Sports Illustrated has two separate articles speaking with 12 different NFL GMs, coaches, and scouts, and to a man, they say that being gay will either hurt Sam's draft stock, or cause him to not be drafted at all. Also to a man, they refuse to put their names behind their comments. [The comments from NFL execs amount to] concern trolling. I wouldn't have a problem with it, but his fellow players would. Some took it even more meta, saying it wouldn't be Sam's sexuality that's a distraction, but the media attention surrounding him. Does that fly in a league where players are regularly arrested, get ensnared in off-the-field controversy, and are generally the inhabitants of a media fishbowl to begin with? Locker rooms have survived truly divisive figures before. (And, it goes without saying, multiple players are and have been out to their teammates without any distractions boiling over into public.) None of those other external factors have ever mattered more than how well the player can play.
And Michael Sam can play:
Some on the right—of course—want to know why Sam had to come out at all: "Sam, who cares about your sexual preference?", asks a conservative blogger. We actually do care about the sexual preferences of pro-athletes (or about-to-be-pro athletes)—their orientations, their escapades, their taste in Kardashians—but since everyone is presumed to be straight until they say otherwise (a not unreasonable assumption, as most people are straight), only gay or bi athletes are in a position of having to announce their sexual orientations. No one objects when the straight default assumption essentially (and loudly) announces a heterosexual athlete's sexual preference—but let a gay person announce his sexual orientation and watch the rightwingers have their aneurysms.
And, finally, William Saleton makes a great point over at Slate: Michael Sam's personal history should pound the last nail in the coffin of the ridiculous "being gay is a choice" argument.