Hot Sports Opinion: Michael Sam, being gay in sports

This actually turned into a two-part series of weekend Hot Sports Opinions. Of course there was the Marcus Smart incident, but on an equal plane — if not more worthy of discussion — is the Missouri football player soon to be entering the NFL draft, Michael Sam, coming out and admitting to being homosexual.

I’m not gonna lie: Before I saw the little Breaking News headline drawing my attention on ESPN, I never knew who Michael Sam was. Never heard of him.

Apparently he was the co-SEC defensive player of the year (which is pretty impressive), and that he played defensive end. That’s all I really know about him, even still. Other than, of course, what now everyone knows him for… for being gay.

It remains to be seen if it will affect his draft stock at all. Most people I’ve read and listened to say he will go anywhere between round 2 and round 5, which basically says he’s not a “can’t-miss” prospect, or whatever vernacular the pundits say for that type of shit nowadays.

The one negative — to me — that comes from a potential NFL football player admitting he’s gay, is, really, that it even has to be as big of a deal as it is. I don’t mean that in a sense that it’s not a courageous, proactive thing to do; I just mean… it’s 2014, already. Why is it not already a “normal” fact of reality that, yes, gay people do play sports, and yes, everyone who follows sports has probably been a fan of an athlete who was not publicly gay, but who was, in fact, gay nonetheless.

Since Sam came out, there has been a typical wave of supportive tweets from President Obama, the first lady, the Vice President, and so on. NFL General Managers and owners have said that a player’s sexuality will have no affect on where he is selected, and that their respective locker rooms will have no problem with a gay teammate. And, you know what? I kind of buy it, while at the same time acknowledging that these teams have public relations to worry about, and no big business wants to alienate any significant faction of its fan base. No NFL team wants to be the one to say, “Hey, we don’t like yer kind ’round here.”

But, mostly, I buy what they are saying. I buy it because, well, there are gay people who exist in professional sports locker rooms. There’s a good chance his teammates know he’s gay, and there’s a good chance most of those teammates act like men and keep the truth behind closed doors. I’m, of course, not a professional athlete, and have never been in a professional sports team locker room, so I don’t really know what it’s like, but I’m a man and I can imagine.

I know gay people. My best friend’s older brother is gay, and he was a pretty damn good baseball player in high school. The way I’m proud not to be a racist is the same way I’m proud that, ever since I knew what it meant to be “gay” or “straight,” I innately understood that they are just people, too. They’re trying to survive, and make it, just like me.

I can’t deny it: I’m white. I come from a pretty conservative family, and I have some relatives who are both racist and homophobic. When I was younger, I used to call them out on it. But, since it’s persisted, and since I’m not a little kid anymore, I just let it go. I can’t change everyone. Sadly.

It’s good that Michael Sam came out, because being gay is normal. It’s not a choice anymore than it is to be right-handed or left-handed. It just is. There have been gay athletes since sports came into existence, because there have been gay people since the beginning of humans.

Sam is the first, hopefully the first of many. And while I love that, I’ll love it even more when we — as a culture — can arrive at the time when an athlete can admit to being gay without it being such a hot button issue. It will just be a common, mundane part of the sports day.

But since there are hot buttons, I supply hot takes. Someone’s gotta do it.

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