The Price of Coming Out: Michael Sam

Let me preface this blog with the following statement:  I am not an avid football fan or follower.  My football viewership is limited to Superbowl advertisements and half-time shows.  This is all some people will need to know about what I’m going to say – because that statement alone has its own set of implications and qualifications.

Michael Sam - MizzouMizzou football star Michael Sam recently became the [could be] first openly gay NFL star.  While I’m 99.9% certain he isn’t going to be the first gay NFL player ever to dig his cleats into a gridiron field, I am certain that he’ll pay a price for “coming out” and thinking he can do so openly.

Mizzou Football Star Michael Sam “Comes Out”

American football – the manliest sport in the the United States – has manly written all over it.  In fact, I’m not even sure why the first organizers bothered to rip off the European name for soccer – they should have just called it:  Man Tackle or something equally as superficial and prehistoric.  Then again, Man Tackle sounds slightly homoerotic – and we all know that would never work.  NFL athletes are models for manhood – they define and represent who American men are supposed to be [ideally].

Michael Sam was one of those men – but not any longer.

Now, he’ll pay the price for declaring who he was born to be.  He’s instantly less qualified for the NFL.  His stock will fall.  He’ll require special handling.  He won’t command the salary he may have been able to negotiate previously.  He’ll have a new prefix added to his name, job description, and bylines.  The media will create and sustain a frenzied circus about his sexuality – it’ll always be an interview topic – or magazine cover.  Backwoods rednecks and Catholics alike will demonize and feminize him – they’ll wonder (and mock) about if Michael Sam broke a nail – or if he checked out their favorite player’s manhood, or backside, in the locker room.  He’ll be referred to as a sinner – and heaven forbid someone’s child actually idolizes him – and says, “When I grow up, I want to be like Michael Sam.” They’ll be shamed by their family and told to select a new role model.

Michael SamThis is our America, whether you like it or not.  Everything Michael Sam does for the rest of his life will be qualified with his sexuality – he’ll have to work twice as hard to silence his critics – and even then, he’ll still have them.  From now on, when he makes an aggressive tackle it’ll be noted, and surprise or shock will accompany his ability to display aggression (or just to make a tackle).

This is what we do to those who identify themselves as members of the LGBT community to their surrounding world.  Michael Sam, in an instant, with one action, will have an asterisk placed by his name and be recorded in history as “the first openly gay NFL player.”  There’s a chance he’ll be targeted for physical harm by opponents.  His name will be publicly trashed and mocked.  Then again, he may never be drafted after all.  While he may well become the first openly gay NFL player – what are his chances beyond that – in coaching or broadcasting?

It’s a bleak picture to paint I know – and yes, there are accepting people in the world who would embrace and root for Michael Sam, the same as they would Tom Brady or Peyton Manning – but do you think the majority of football fans are those people when it comes to their sport or its athletes? Who knows, but based on a Sports Illustrated article about what NFL insiders are saying about Michael Sam’s draft stock, I think it’s safe to assume many are not.

Rest assured, Michael Sam will pay a hefty price for coming out – the question is, will he ever be able to overcome it and simply be referred to as Michael Sam ever again?

NOTE:  I am a proud and vocal proponent of LGBT rights, individuality and self-expression.  However, even more than that, I am a proponent of people being people first – none of the rest matters, really.  When interviewed for an article in 2010 at Webster University, one of my main points was a cautionary message to people about disclosing their sexuality because of what I consider to be the “price of coming out.”  Perhaps you find this a controversial, or even contradictory, message – perhaps you don’t and you share my sentiment – whatever you believe, I hope that one day we all believe, people are people first.

The Michael Sam pre-coming out is the same Michael Sam that came out.  Why should he have to pay a price or be told that [suddenly] the world of football isn’t ready for him?  He’s the same person – except now you know just a little bit more about him, big deal.  It [homosexuality] doesn’t stop being a “big deal” until we [the people of America, and the world] stop making it one.

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