Last February, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam publicly declared he was gay – a first for a likely NFL draft pick. Last week, the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the last round – another first. But I believe the trickiest terrain is still ahead.
When Michael Sam told his University of Missouri teammates he was gay before last season, no one seemed to care very much. No one tweeted the news to the public, and Sam had a great season. It’s a safe bet that NFL teams – who know what kind of gum their prospects chew – already knew he was gay, too. But when Sam came out publicly, it changed the equation.
The NFL has already had gay players, so that isn’t new. But publicly declaring you’re gay is new – and so is the onslaught of media attention.
After Sam came out, he dropped from a projected fourth- or fifth-round draft pick to the seventh and final round. There’s no way to prove this, of course, but it’s hard to believe part of the reason wasn’t homophobia – though that term isn’t accurate. As the saying goes – often attributed to Morgan Freeman – “It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.”