I want the reaction to Michael Sam announcing his sexual orientation to be the same as if he’d announced his eye color or his hometown or his favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor: a collective shrug and, “Well, that’s nice, but what does that have to do with whether he can play football?”
Because let me throw some numbers at you. Some 23,000 players have suited up for the NFL in its history. Studies estimate that 20% of the population is attracted to their own gender. Statistically, someone before Michael Sam was a gay NFL player. Not as openly as Sam, but they’ve suited up, practiced, played, sweated with their teammates. And not once have we heard about roving bands of homosexuals terrorizing locker rooms. Nobody’s talked about being stalked in the showers. Maybe it’s a pride thing, a players’ code of honor not to bring it up. But I have to think that somebody at some point in the nearly hundred years the NFL has been in existence would have mentioned it if it had happened. So having a gay player in the locker room isn’t the instant road to ruin some want to think it is.
Besides, how arrogant does one have to be to assume that because someone is attracted to your gender, they’re automatically attracted to you? Well, now that I think about it, the kind of men who have a knee-jerk revulsion to homosexuality are likely the kind of men who think all women want them as well, but they’re just as deluded on that front as they are on thinking all gay men want them too. Attraction isn’t some simple transitive formula of, “I like X, you are X, therefore I like you.” And even if someone of your own gender is attracted to you, well, how is that any more uncomfortable than someone of the opposite sex being attracted to you when there’s no mutual interest? You deal with it like a compassionate adult and you move on. It’s not that hard.
Granted, you and I aren’t getting undressed and showering in front of this possible unwanted attention, so it’s easy to sit back and tell these guys it’s no big deal. But I’d like to think someone with the discipline to play a rigorous organized sport like football can find it within themselves to resist groping teammates in the shower. And honestly, most players you talk to will say they don’t care what a guy’s sexual preference is, as long as he helps them win football games. Maybe they’re just saying the right things, but like I said, the odds are really good these players have known a gay teammate at some point. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt here.
As for controversy, we’ve had a star quarterback who was given a second chance after killing dogs. We’ve had a big name player kill someone while driving under the influence and be welcomed back. We’ve had a Super Bowl MVP who was present when someone was murdered. I think the league can handle a dude who likes other dudes.
The real test will come in May when Sam is or isn’t drafted. Before his announcement, he was projected anywhere from the third round to not being drafted at all. I really hope his orientation doesn’t affect his status one way or another. He doesn’t deserve to be downgraded for being gay, but he also shouldn’t be elevated beyond his ability just to make a point. He’s not a gay football player. He’s a football player. That’s all that should matter.