Michael Sam is poised to be the first openly gay player in the National Football League.
He isn’t yet. Right now, he is just a high quality college player waiting to be drafted.
How high quality? The 6-foot-2 and 260 pound Missouri University defensive lineman was a first team All-American, was named the top defensive player in the Southeastern Conference, and teammates named him the team's most valuable player.
That is the kind of resume that gets you drafted.
Now, the NFL isn’t exactly known for being a gay-friendly environment. Just ask ex-Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe who isn’t gay, but is an outspoken supporter of gay rights. He has also been very public about the abuse and ire he suffered for speaking out in support of gay marriage. He goes so far as to say that his support of gay rights contributed to his being released by the Vikings and ultimately out of the NFL.
Why would a football player who is hoping to get drafted publicly announce that he was gay?
Because he wants to get drafted, that’s why.
Michael Sam had already told his teammates that he was gay. That means that the NFL scouts would know that he was gay. And in the war rooms on draft day, they could, under the cloak of secrecy, decide not to draft him without anyone knowing that his sexuality was a contributing factor in that decision.
Now the NFL has to make that decision in the light of day.
Michael Sam will be drafted. And the team that drafts him will do it knowing that he is gay and knowing that the world knows that his is gay. If Michael Sam had waited and come out after being drafted, there would be resentment from teammates, from management and from narrow-minded fans who would have claimed he failed to be upfront and honest before being offered a roster slot. His coming out before the draft was the smart move that makes those criticisms moot.
Michael Sam is gay. He is out. He is going to be drafted by the NFL. Slide over and make some room on that bench of honor Jackie Robinson, here is another courageous athlete who is breaking down the barriers built by bigots.
I only hope that the rough road paved by Jackie helps make Michael Sam’s journey just a little bit easier.
Oh, and let’s hope that he doesn’t get drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs.