A decade ago, it would have been almost inconceivable for a promising college football player to “come out” as gay to his teammates, much less to the world at large just prior to the NFL draft. But University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement isn’t so much shocking as heartening, a sign perhaps that the culture of bias against gay people in American team athletics is waning. Sam potentially could become the first openly gay player in NFL history.
Sam’s teammates all seemed to know and be relatively comfortable with Sam’s declaration, and other teams voiced support, as did his school and many NFL players and officials. He will undoubtedly suffer repercussions from the older generation of managers and administrators – his draft stock apparently has fallen already – and he is dealing with what surely must be painful disapproval from his father. But hopefully this is mitigated by what must be enormous relief at presenting his true self to the world.
Sam’s honesty and bravery in blazing a trail along what will undoubtedly be a very bumpy road offers an ideal opportunity for talking to adolescents about the nature of personal identity and the history of bigotry.