Believe it or not, the first weekend in six months without football brought what could very well turn into the biggest sports story of the year – football or otherwise.
NFL hopeful Michael Sam, a 24-year-old defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, publicly declared he is gay to the New York Times Sunday evening.
Let that soak in for a moment.
Think about the fact that the year 2014 could bring the world’s first openly gay athlete in NFL history. Think about the barrier that could be broken, the example that could be set, the progress that could be made. Think about courage and think about tolerance. Think of the past and of the future.
On Sunday, Michael Sam took what many will consider to be the gamble of a lifetime, but what should be remembered as one of the most courageous decisions this country has seen in quite a while. With the NFL draft scheduled to take place in approximately three months, Sam had every reason in the book to keep his private life private in order to prevent jeopardizing that all-important “draft stock” we hear so much about this time of year. After all, draft season has a habit of turning highly-skilled collegiate football players into lab rats.
Injuries drop stock. Lack of size or speed drops stock. Character concerns drop stock.
And establishing oneself as the first openly gay football player in NFL history? Well, yeah, that could certainly drop your stock, too. Especially if the individuals tasked with making draft day decisions conclude Sam’s presence in the locker room could pose some sort of problem.
Over the next three months, you’re going to hear a lot about Michael Sam. You’re going to hear the good and the bad, the football related and non-football related, the risk and the reward. You’re going to hear some very positive sentiments and some very nasty criticisms.
But the reality is nobody needs to hypothesize whether or not an openly gay football player works in the NFL. If the guy can play, the guy can play.
Dozens of individuals who this country declares too young to legally consume alcohol banded together to turn a 5-7 football team in 2012 into a 12-2 Cotton Bowl winner in 2013…with Sam’s 11.5 sacks pacing the charge.
If a group of amateur teenagers and 20-somethings could work with a gay teammate, it’s not that far-fetched to believe a platoon of highly-paid professionals could do the same thing. All they need is a chance to show it to the rest of the world.
Perhaps all they need is an opportunity to work with Michael Sam.
Joe Fortenbaugh, worked as an NFL Agent from 2003-2006 at JB Sports, Inc. Follow Joe on Twitter @joefortenbaugh, and check out his website at NationalFootballPost.com. You can reach him at [email protected].