(Columbia, MO) – The sports world was all abuzz today about yesterday’s public announcement by 24-year-old college football player Michael Sam. In announcing that he is gay, some praised his courage while others had conniptions. One thing is certain: the sports world will never be the same.
Sam, a 6’2″, 255-pound defensive member of the University of Missouri football team, still plans to participate in the National Football League (NFL) draft in May. And, if drafted – his draft stock, originally believed to be a possible third-round draft prospect, has taken a hit since Sunday’s announcement – the NFL will be presented with an issue not seen in professional sports since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Indeed, many are probably hearing the immortal words “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” uttered by the late former Alabama Governor George Wallace (D-AL).
Sam’s 11½ sack/19 tackle/two forced fumble performance earned him 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year accolades. His skills helped the Tigers to a 12-2 finish and a win against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
Sam came out to his Missouri teammates last August, and they kept his secret. But Sam’s public announcement has left NFL officials scrambling, not sure if they need to applaud Sam for his bold move or start doing damage control to mitigate what could be a massive boycott by homophobic Americans, thus depleting the tax-exempt league’s coffers.
“We’re just not sure what to do,” said an NFL spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’ve never been faced with something like this, so we want to move forward very carefully. After all, we don’t want to lose our fans – we need to keep fleecing them at every turn – but we don’t want to lose one dime, either.”
“Members of the NFL front office are concerned about having homosexuals playing in the league,” said a critic of the NFL, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re talking about law-abiding people here. So they’d rather ban homosexuals and sign murderers and animal torturers. They’d rather sign drug addicts and alcoholics. They’d rather sign wife-beaters and rapists. I think the NFL front office has a lot to explain.”
There are team officials, such as general managers, who are wary of doing anything to upset the delicate balance found in the locker rooms of successful teams. And there’s also the question of an owner following Branch Rickey’s Robinson example of 67 years ago.
A “no” vote came from a team official, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said professional football isn’t “ready for it just yet” because the use of anti-gay slurs is still a common occurrence in the sport. He did say the NFL would be more accepting “in the coming decade or two, because I’ll be dead by then.”
Players’ reactions are likely to be mixed, mainly due to preconceived notions about homosexuality as well as personal religious beliefs. One end of the spectrum is perhaps best exemplified by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, who said, “Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff,” after playing in Super Bowl XLVII.
Another player, speaking on condition of anonymity, simply said, “[Explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative] [explicative]. And I don’t want that taken out context.”
And the Minnesota Vikings dumped punter Chris Kluwe after the 2013 season, not for being gay, but for being an advocate of gay marriage.
At another end of the spectrum is Richie Incognito, the formerly suspended Miami Dolphins offensive lineman accused of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin so incessantly that Martin walked away from the team mid-season. Incognito, whose November 3, 2013, suspension was lifted just last week, took to Twitter to say, “it takes guts to do what you did.” Of course, it took no guts to torment his non-gay teammate, so anything Incognito says must be taken with a container of salt.
And then there’s the political angle, which is not as straightforward (no pun intended) as it seems. Predictably, Congress’ reaction was mixed. “We will revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status if they allow this travesty,” said a right-wing congressman’s spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Other members of Congress were decidedly less banshee-like. “We’re just going to have to see how this thing shakes out,” said another congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We need to move at a deliberate pace on this one. No need to rush. Twenty years of studying the issue should be sufficient.”
First Lady Michelle Obama said Sam’s announcement was an “inspiration” for Americans. “Ditto,” said President Obama (D-IL/Kenya), echoing Michelle Obama’s comments, according to a White House spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. Vice-President Joe Biden (D-DE), known for putting his foot in his mouth, was not allowed to say anything to the press.
Former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), who declared “Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay,” following his June 2007 arrest for having a “wide stance” in the restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, chimed in through a spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, “Senator Craig is not a football player, and he has never been a football player. But he does know this: homosexuals have no place in American society. And that’s coming from someone who played footsie with an undercover cop in the men’s room.”
In June 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a “gay propaganda ban” into law. Amid charges by human rights activists of punishing and persecuting homosexuals in Russia, Putin sought to allay the fears of gay Olympians coming to Sochi for the February 2014 Winter Olympics, saying on January 17 that gays “can feel calm and at ease” as long a they “leave kids alone, please.” His comments were slammed as homophobic by world leaders. His comments were endorsed by Christian Fundamentalists and Islamic Fundamentalists around the globe. And his comments disappointed a contingent of about 500 registered American child molesters who were planning to attend the Olympics just for access to Russia’s children.
Religious leaders had even more to add to the topic. Christian broadcaster and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson (R-VA) issued the warning through a spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He believes any NFL team willing to sign Michael Sam to a contract is risking the wrath of God, for which they will surely be smited.” Perhaps not so ironically, Robertson’s house was hit by lightning just minutes after his spokesman released his comments. The house burned to the ground.