A New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Attorney Discusses Michael Sam, the First Openly Gay Player in the NFL
First of all, I’m not going to assume that everyone reading this blog knows football, so let me explain something.
The NFL draft takes place over several days and involves many hundreds of players. The drafts are conducted in “rounds”, where each of the NFL teams get to pick players in an order determined by that team’s record in the previous season (the better the team’s record, the worse their next year’s draft position). Teams often trade their right to pick in certain order and in certain rounds, or they trade the players that they intend to pick (or do pick) for other considerations. Also, the higher a player is picked in the draft, the more money they can negotiate for by way of salary. The guys who get the most money are the guys that are picked in the first round, and of those guys, the guys that are picked first, second, third, fourth, etc., get the most money of all. So with that in mind, you can appreciate that out of all the players in the NFL draft, the fact that Michael Sam was picked eighth-to-last in the draft overall doesn’t bode well for his “top money” prospects. But, even if he makes the league minimum, which given where he went in the draft, he almost certainly will, he’ll still pull down over $450,000.00 a year (that’s not bad for an entry level position in any job on the planet.)
So we’re not talking about Michael Sam because he’s the brightest star in the draft. We’re talking about him, of course, because he’s the first “out” gay player to be drafted it the NFL. He’s made history, and so has the NFL. By implication, so have the St. Louis Rams, who drafted Michael, and so has everyone who’s buying his Rams jersey. Incidentally, get a load of this: the top selling jersey days after the draft was Johnny Manziel’s (“Johnny Football”) – and rightly so given his prodigious talents and how high he went in the draft – but that of Michael Sam was number two. There are plenty of guys – hundreds – who went higher than Michael Sam in the draft whose jerseys weren’t selling number two.
I think that’s just awesome. It means that lots of people are buying his jersey for probably all the right reasons. They want to be a part of history. And people who want to be a part of this history, who also happen to be NFL fans or college football fans, are the “meat and potatoes folks” of the country. These are the people the right wing claims to represent with their homophobic rants and similar bullshit.
Guess what, right wing? Epic fail. You’re wrong about whom you represent. You don’t represent “meat and potatoes” Americans. You do represent fringe nut-jobs who aren’t buying Michael Sam jerseys, but by no means do you represent “main stream” people. Football has always been a great social barometer. If you want to know who the soft conservatives are in the United States, going to your average football game would be a great way to meet several tens of thousands of them. These are the people that are probably buying the jersey, and these are the people that are going to be saying things in the near future like “Who gives a crap if he’s gay or not. Are the Rams winning?”
I guess what I’m saying is that we’re moving into a “post” discriminatory world when it comes to LGBT folks. We’re not there yet, and LGBT folks remain the last bastion of hatred for bigots and conservatives, but we’re getting there.
Ironically, Missouri is one of those states where it’s still legally “ok” to openly discriminate against gay people in hiring. That means that ironically, the team that drafted him, the Rams, could legally fire him simply because he’s gay. They’re not going to do that, of course, but they could.
Also ironic is the fact that there’s a bill pending in Missouri which would make it illegal to discriminate in employment against LGBT people. That bill didn’t have a great deal of juice, but maybe now it will.
Michael Sam may or may not accomplish much on the football field. He may or may not have a long career. Injury, other occupation and the chaos theory of who does well and why will all play into Michael Sam’s “post retirement” conversation, the conversation we always have about a football player’s career when they take off the jersey for the last time.
But one thing that we’ll always be talking about is the fact that Michael Sam was the first guy to aspire to a historically homophobic and insular community of elite athletes where, until very recently, it just wasn’t “ok” to admit that you were gay. That’s not to say there weren’t gay football players. There have been more than 10,000 pros, so do the math. Even if you argue that less gay men would have been attracted to, and been good at, football as youths, you’re still talking about hundreds of closeted gay players over the decades. Maybe that’s over. It’d be nice.
The St. Louis Rams, as well, will always be the team that broke that ice, and kudos to them for doing that.
Now, what about the “kiss,” the footage where Michael, upon hearing he’d been drafted, did what thousands of other draftees have done, over decades, when they’ve heard the good news: he turned to a loved one and gave that loved one a big kiss. We’ve seen players do it with their girlfriends, their moms, their best friends, their dads. Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend.
The more enlightened, progressive and sane among you are now saying “so what?” Well, you know “so what.” There are people out there who are calling it “weird”, “gross” or “disgusting” and are claiming (as they always do whenever confronted with something new that they’re afraid of) that it bespeaks the end of football, the end of America, the end of the world.
I imagine these people would be much happier living in the Sudan, in Saudi Arabia, or perhaps in Russia, where institutionalized anti-gay views still prevail. Miami Dolphins’ defensive back Don Jones tweeted “OMG” “Horrible” in response to the kiss. This is a guy playing on the same team that, in the last six months, has been dealing with homophobic hazing and abuse in the locker room. Nice to know they’ve gotten their shit together isn’t it? (I never did like the Dolphins). Now to be fair, Jones was fined and suspended and ordered to go to sensitivity training and other athletes who have tweeted other similar crap have been handled “appropriately”, but we’re always going to have the nudniks who want to live in yesterday (or in Russia). Ignore them. One day they’ll all die off, and we’ll all be better off for it.
For me, I’m a New York Giants fan. I want Big Blue to kick the crap out of the Rams on December 21st. I want to see my o-line and my blocking backs shut Mike down. Wanna know why? Cause now, the first openly gay football player is just another obstacle in the way of my next Superbowl win. That’s how it should be. One day, one day soon, that’s exactly how it will be.