Michael Sam is an African-American college graduate who plays football. He’s also gay.
© Twitter user @AFpicture_japan
Former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam reacts during a game at Faurot Field during the 2013 season. Sam has become the first openly gay prospect in the history of the National Football League.
An outgoing University of Missouri defensive end, Sam officially announced his sexuality to the sports world Sunday in a pair of exclusive interviews with ESPN and the New York Times.
With the latest National Football League (NFL) season having concluded seven days before his announcement, count me as one of the people caught off guard by Sam’s public declaration.
In an ever-increasing open and transparent society, homosexuals have become more accepted and part of our world.
Why shouldn’t that be the case in professional sports?
Granted, there have been other openly gay athletes in the major North American sports leagues — Jason Collins in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Robbie Rogers in Major League Soccer — but none in the most popular league: the NFL.
While Rogers plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Collins has yet to be signed by anNBA team since he came out.
Coming off a year in which he was named an All-American and Defensive Player of the Year in arguably college football’s most talented conference, the Southeastern Conference, Sam was projected to be picked in the third or fourth round in the 2014 NFL Draft.
After his admission, it’s unclear when or if Sam will be drafted by an NFL team.
The big question — Is the NFL ready for an openly gay player? — remains to be answered.
My answer to that question is I’m not sure.
I want to say yes because I believe in equality, regardless of race, age, or sexual orientation, but I don’t know how he will be accepted by NFL players, coaches and management.
If he can play, let him play. And Sam can play.
His strip sack of Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf with just over one minute remaining in the fourth quarter of last month’s Cotton Bowl produced a fumble return for a touchdown, sealing a 41-31 Missouri victory.
Slightly undersized for a defensive end, Sam is not the quintessential power pass rusher, but his on-the-field motor is undeniable.
So too, was the motor of former first round NFL draft pick Tim Tebow.
A star quarterback at the University of Florida, Tebow was part of two national championship-winning teams and became the first sophomore to ever win the prestigious Heisman Trophy. His abilities were not expected to translate well into an NFL career. After a three-year stint with the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, the New England Patriots cut Tebow prior to the 2013 NFL season.
He has since entered the broadcast booth, but Tebow is most remembered for what some people called an egregiously open sense of Christianity.
He would end every press conference with the words “God bless,” and always offer thanks to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
People heckled him and thought his outward Christianity was too much, especially in a league like the NFL that had not seen such a consistent public exuberance of faith from one player.
In my books, Tebow is more respected for who he is and what he stood for than any of his on-the-field accomplishments.
Michael Sam also deserves respect for what he has publically acknowledged.
So what if he’s gay.
As a defensive end, Sam’s job is to rush the quarterback, cause pressure and hopefully force a mistake.
It’s a mistake to think Sam has done anything more than be his own person. Isn’t that all parents want their kids to grow up and do?
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks