Missouri football star Michael Sam came out as gay yesterday, confirming for the world what friends, family and an ever-growing number of reporters already knew. Since he’s likely to be drafted into the NFL this year (or, at least, he was), Sam could soon become the first openly gay player ever in the NFL — or, really, even in any of the major American team sports. It’s a great story, for lots of reasons. Here are a few.
1. It broke online, at least it did for me. I found out about it on Twitter. I’d never heard of Sam. By the time I Googled him, the story had blown up, and I watched the ESPN interview at least an hour before it aired on TV.
2. He’s young, Part 1. A handful of former pro athletes in the Big Four (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) have come out – after their careers were over. Sam’s hasn’t even started yet.
3. He’s young, Part 2. Polls have shown for years that anti-gay bias persists largely along generational lines. To state it broadly, younger folks are far less likely to care if someone’s gay than their grandparents or even parents.
4. Team unity. When Sam came out to his University of Missouri teammates before the last season started, they all stood behind him throughout a wildly successful year. But some older folks inside the NFL fretted to si.com (which shamefully let them go unnamed) that the league still “isn’t ready.”
5. He’s a star, a top NFL draft prospect — SEC defensive player of the year. ‘Nuff said.
6. He’s masculine — SEC defensive player of the year. ‘Nuff said
7. He seems like a nice kid. No one’s going to call him a thug, that’s for sure.
8. He clearly got some good media coaching but still came off authentic with ESPN’s Chris Connelly.
9. The Putin Factor. Nice that this happened during anti-gay Russia’s Olympics.
10. The “Duh” Factor. There have always been gays in sports, even the NFL. Some of them have started coming out recently, notably NBA journeyman Jason Collins last year, who wasn’t picked up for this season. Whatever happens next with Sam, he – and his great many supporters – have pushed the story forward, the only direction it can go. And so far, the reaction has been mostly supportive or muted.
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