NFL

How Big a Deal Is the Prospect of an Openly Gay NFL Player?

If Michael Sam makes it to the pros, it marks the endpoint of a culturally problematic attitude about homosexuality

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What we really can't predict is whether stupid homoerotic references to "tight ends" will increase or decrease.
ESPN

Is America ready for an openly gay NFL player?

Yes, of course. That's kind of a silly question if you think about it in terms of how the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" played out.

Did you forget about that? So did everybody else. Despite the fear-mongering that it would affect morale, there seems to have been little actual impact in allowing gay men and women serving openly in the military.

I noted in my end-of-year review about how amazingly gay I found the year 2013 that pretty much the last threshold for cultural gay tolerance to be hammered out in the United States was in professional sports. Though there are openly gay male athletes in the less prominent professional sports like soccer and boxing, we still do not have an openly gay male athletes currently competing in professional baseball, basketball or football.

Then this weekend, Michael Sam, a top lineman from the University of Missouri, came out of the closet (to the media – this teammates already knew). It matters because he's apparently a good enough player to make the transition to the NFL. If he's drafted in May, he would become the first openly gay actively competing football player. That's assuming no existing players come out of the closet in the meantime.

That the media is making such a big deal out of Sam may seem a little strange, particularly to those who are and have always been down with the gay folks. It's helpful to consider the idea that we're writing the last chapter in a very lengthy book of American history. The advancement and acceptance of an openly gay male pro athlete (sorry pioneering ladies – we know you were first) is the final stage of cultural acceptance of gay people living openly and happily without having to hide who they are. The Onion, in their usual fashion, made a joke out of it in August that's funny but insightful: "Area Teen Quickly Running Out Of Chances To Be First Openly Gay Anything."

Obviously, there are still so many more conflicts and debates about how gay people are treated by the law and what "rights" apply (scare quotes due to the fundamental cultural disagreement about what even constitutes a right). Today gay couples filed suit in Ohio to force the state to recognize their marriages, a battle being replicated in several states right now.

And though homophobia may be on the decline, it's naïve to think it's going to fade into nothingness. Racism and sexism still exist. There's always some sort of justification for believing some humans should be treated as lesser to others for reasons that should have no actual bearing.  

But all eyes are on Sam because this is the final doorway in America for cultural acceptance. It marks the end of certain silly ideas about how masculinity informs sexuality that have had lasting impacts on the psyches of straights and gays alike for decades. It's a huge deal, though the impact may not be fully grasped except in retrospect years from now.

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  1. Just to point out, he played in the Southeastern Conference.

    1. I think he was recruited in the Big 12 if you want to be all Homer about it.

      1. Big 12 or SEC, still neat that he came from a heartland conference and not the Big Ten or the Pac-12.

        1. C’mon. You’re setting us up for a Penn State joke, aren’t you?

        2. Iowa is on the phone. It wants to talk with you.

          1. When I lived in Minnesota, I learned that Minnesotans have a prejudice against Iowa. Who knew? Still not clear on why.

            1. There’s always some clan on the other side of the ditch who are more inbred/stupid. Its human nature.

              1. “We’re tolerant. Except when it comes to those people in Iowa. Them we’d nuke, if Minnesota had a nuke.”

                1. Fucking Iowans with their corn and their soybeans and their polite ways.

                  1. Iowa: Corn-fed pork

                    But enough about their women.

                    1. But enough about their women.

                      Around here that’s a West Virginia joke.

                    2. I was at an Iowa State Cyclones game last fall. There was a 45 minute delay starting the second half because the ISU cheerleaders wouldn’t stop grazing at mid-field.

                2. Packer fan joke:

                  Q: Why doesn’t Iowa have a professional football team?
                  A: Because then Minnesota would want one too.

                  1. So Wisconsin looks down on Minnesota and Iowa. Interesting.

                    Minnesotans also make fun of North, yet not South, Dakotans.

                    1. I had a teacher who swore North Dakota didn’t even exist. Perhaps she was from Minnesota.

                    2. Its actually a myth spread by Canadians.

                    3. No, we want it, now. It’s full of oil. Which is why it is changing its name to North Texas.

                    4. Serious question: Since we find oil everywhere we look, doesn’t it seem like we might need to rethink our picture of hydrocarbon creation?

                    5. When intelligent dinosaurs ruled the Earth and the rest of the solar system, they produced huge amounts of biological waste, which they buried underground in all sorts of places. An unfortunate accident ended up converting Venus into a out-of-control greenhouse effect disaster.

                    6. So Wisconsin looks down on Minnesota and Iowa. Interesting.

                      And FIBs, according to the Packer fans I know from Wisconsin. But that joke is more directed at Viking fans than at the people of Minnesota or Iowa. Kind of like the photos of the Vikings’ trophy case.

            2. Iowajuana, it sucked.

    2. Not for his first two years.

  2. Sam praised by Michelle Obama

    Mrs Obama took to Twitter to call Sam “an inspiration to all of us. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field.”

    Spare me! At least she said “courage” instead of “prowess”.

  3. If he’s drafted in May and ends up on a team in September, he would become the first openly gay actively competing football player.

    Fixed.

    1. He’s going to have to find a team that plays a 3-4 so he can play OLB except he doesn’t have great speed. Making the roster is the key here.

      I will say this. In a year where no team wants to be on Hard Knocks but the league is continuing the deal, I think they need to put his team’s training camp on HBO. It would be the most compelling storyline they could hope for, especially if he has to fight to make the roster.

      1. I am going to be kind of pissed off if a guy named Mike Sam doesn’t end up playing Will.

        1. This was the winner of the thread, IMO. Nice work.

      2. Is he definitely draft-caliber talent? If not, I fear the shitstorm that will be ginned up if he’s not drafted.

        1. I suspect that was the idea all along.

          1. Even if he gets drafted, what if he doesn’t make the team? Shitstorm.

            1. How much does a week of sensitivity training cost for an entire NFL team?

              1. I think Miami is about to be able to answer that. So really, they’ve got the least to lose, since they’re going to have to go through all sorts of shit like that anyhow.

                1. Redskins are the team that need to draft him.

                  Having a gay player will help to offset having an un PC team name.

          2. It does go a long way towards making him virtually uncuttable.

          3. Exactly. It gives a definite edge.

        2. Most commentators considered him a second-day (that is, rounds 2-4) prospect before this announcement. In terms of his credentials, he was the SEC defensive player of the year – and the SEC is a perennially strong conference, so that’s not an easy award to win. Some quick checking on Google finds that in the dozen or so years the award has been given out, only two winners weren’t drafted in the first round, and one of those guys was DeMeco Ryans, who definitely should have been. So for Sam not to be drafted would definitely be noteworthy.

          (The other was Chad Lavalais, a fifth-round scrub whose only career achievement was giving Donovan McNabb a chronic rib injury).

          1. Surprised I hadn’t heard of him before, but if that’s the case, I suspect he’ll be drafted.

        3. ESPN has him rated at 119 overall, but he’s a one-way player with poor measurables. Seems like a poor man’s Freeney based on the profile. With his probable position being out of vogue he could crash out with an awful combine / pro-day run (though Burfict proves that can happen to anyone).

    2. Here’s the deal, though.

      Any team that drafts him is almost going to have to give him a roster slot. Otherwise, they will be accused of cutting him because he’s gay. Nicely played, Sam.

      However, this makes actually drafting him a very risky decision. If I’m drafting, I don’t touch him unless I’m 90% sure he’s going to make the team. Easier to be one of 32 teams that don’t draft him, than the one team that cut him.

      1. I think your concerns are overstated. Not wrong, but him not making the draft or a roster slot will be less a tempest and more sneeze among activists. There’s plenty of people who know about the hard knocks of pro football.

        1. And plenty who don’t (or don’t care).

          1. I look at people as being different than “activists”. And, yes, there will be activists raising a hue and cry. And there will be plenty in the lgbt community who’ll be sports-savvy enough (it’s not all sidecars flower shows, yanno) to tell them not to get upset about the harsh realities of landing a spot in the NFL.

  4. Football is already the second gayest pro sport after soccer. The NFL could have quite a revenue stream on its hands if it started marketing post-game shower videos.

  5. There is an athelete who’s gay? Get the fuck outta here!

  6. Michael Sam didn’t want that D3 kicker who came out as “bisexual” to take all of the spotlight.

  7. I’m glad that gayness is a way of changing value through differentiation in a market where the actual differences between commodities is a hard problem.

    1. Seriously, this is so much easier than making up a girlfriend you never met who happened to die.

    2. It’s risky, though. I think he significantly lowered his value .

      1. Any high-reward strategy is. I mean, the guy was mid-to-late pick. Now, anyone who picks him has to carry him through opening day unless he completely shits the bed. But he’ll get another look from a lot of teams. Especially the Dolphins it appears.

        1. Yes, I’ve heard there can be gay Dolphins.

    3. Sorry, I should say “coming out”, not gayness per se. I don’t think he went gay to gain draft status as a just good enough for a late round guy. But announcing it really is a good way to get people to watch your film again.

    4. That is one freaking awesome statement. Political correctness might be creating a new branch of economics. As an aside, I’ll never forget the day that my boss at UCSF found out I was Jewish. She said something to the effect of why didn’t you tell me that before!! When she found out I was a born again Christian, I thought she wanted to have a wake. Fortunately, I had already proven myself capable and effective, but it was certainly a sad day in her life.

  8. The question is, how well can he play ball?

    dammit, the jokes just write themselves.

    1. Can he switch sides and play Tight End? That sort of flexibility could make him really valuable.

  9. What about Tom Brady?

  10. Personally I don’t give a shit. What’s the significance of the first openly gay NFL player? Nothing spectacular really. Also the whole gay marriage debate is built on fraud. Marriage shouldn’t be endorsed or subsidized by the state in any way. Yet I see the conservatives, leftists and even libertarians at times caught up in this act. Why not try privatizing marriage for once? A state rep in my home state Oklahoma gets it and has introduced a bill that would do such. I have a lot of respect for Reason Magazine and the work you guys do, but it seems you’ve forgotten what it means to be libertarian at times. As for me I try to be as consistent as possible. The only marriage equality is where government doesn’t give special preference to anybody at all. Can we try reframing this debate back in the genuine libertarian direction?

    1. Other than personal details, I could have written this.

      I think most people here are closer to you than you think.

    2. What’s the significance of the first openly gay NFL player? Nothing spectacular really.

      The only marriage equality is where government doesn’t give special preference to anybody at all.

      Second!

  11. CBS dropped his ranking 70 points overnight:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/…..–nfl.html

      1. See? His strategy is already paying off!

  12. I’m deeply offended that I have to pay attention and respond to this story.

  13. I thought there already was several gay NFL players. How could anything involving contact and locker rooms not have any gays?

    1. Joe Namath doesn’t count. He’d screw anything while he was drunk and he was always drunk.

      1. Namath would never do that, unless he was drunk.

      2. Was that some sort of bear he was screwing at the ‘Big Game’?

  14. The 1969 Redskins had two guys who were not only known to be gay (in the locker room, at least – they weren’t “out” like Sam is) but actually slept together during the season. And that team posted a winning record!

    The publicity is new, gay NFL players are not.

    1. The next ten years are going to be filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of breathless media stories about “The first openly gay person to [fill in the blank]”.

      1. I doubt it. Those stories are already dull and they’re getting weirdly specific “First openly gay woman of color elected to Kentucky’s upper house in a recall election” type of stuff. They might linger on for a few years, but I doubt they’ll get 10 out of it.

        1. Turning out for recall elections is so gay.

        2. Openly gay commenter–who was the first? Episiarch? No, wait, he was the First Openly Enraged Commenter.

  15. What’s the significance of the first openly gay NFL player?

    For that matter, what’s the significance of the entire NFL?

    It’s a significant indicator of what the American sucker will put up with because lots of people think it’s a big enough deal to donate billions of tax dollars to build stadiums for the billionaires who own the thing. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

  16. Europeans are mystified by this story as there are already dozens of gay soccer players.

    1. Are we counting the Spanish and Italians automatically?

    2. Soccer fans are brutal. I’d rather deal with coming out as a football player than a futbol player.

      1. Horribly racist in addition to whatever anti-gay views they have.

        1. What are you on about??!? Europe is a shining beacon of tolerance and equality.

    3. Isn’t “gay soccer player” a redundancy? I Europe Soccer players come out as straight to get in the news.

      1. They’re just men with a flamboyant sense of style who like to kiss each other. What’s the problem?

        1. Isn’t the just Europeans generally?

          We used to play “gay or european” at Disneyland. The only consistent way to tell them apart was the shoes.

          1. So the gays still wear sneakers in the US?

            1. Eh the last time I played was probably 10 years ago, but the Euros generally wore much thinner soled shoes of whatever style than their American counterparts. Also at the time back pockets were really oddly located on especially British pants.

          2. Overheard: “Oh, he’s gay? I thought he was just European.”

      2. You’re thinking of Lacrosse.

    4. To give a serious answer, no there isn’t an out player in a major European league. Robbie Rogers, who plays in the MLS, is the most significant.

      And I agree with what is said above, it probably would be more difficult than in the NFL.

    5. I’m sure there are dozens of gay NFL players too, they just haven’t come out of the closet.

      -jcr

      1. I’m sure there are dozens of gay NFL players

        Probably. There are only @1700 NFL players at any given time (final roster of 53 x 32 teams). Around 3% of the population is gay (best estimate), so that would be 51 total gayers (gay + player, amirite?).

        What I’m waiting for:

        After making a big media production of announcing his sexual habits, the gayer will inevitably demand that everyone ignore his sexual habits and treat him just like any other player.

        1. Sounds like someone’s sexual habits are not satisfied 😉

        2. “I’m openly gay and like to dress like a woman”

          Yay for progress!

          “I have sexual relationship with multiple women, and had a one night stand with a hooker. I want to have a surgery to become more white like Michael Jackson. Whale meat is delicious. I also vote Republican”

          You deviant, stay away from the children!

        3. Why would we assume the same percentage as the population at large? There are some industries where gay men are significantly over-represented, so there must be some where they are under-represented. I don’t know that professional football is one of those industries, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

          Still, even if we only 1% of NFL players are gay (and closeted, since none are out), that would mean 10-20 players spread across the 32 teams.

  17. Meanwhile, the Olympics are being held in a country ruled by an authoritarian regime that is deeply and openly hostile to gays, and oddly the media doesn’t seem to give a crap.

    Given their reaction to the duck dude, you would think that would be all they would want to talk about. I guess beating up on Putin and the Russians isn’t as easy and fun as beating up on American rednecks.

    1. It is almost like they planned this story as a way to feel better about themselves for kissing Putin’s ass in return for access.

      See we really do care about gays. Look how much we love this American football player who is gay. Some of our best friends are gay. No lets get back to Solchi

      1. “Sans Solchi” strikes again!

      2. There as a headline yesterday, ‘First Openly Gay Medal Winner At Sochi’. I had to think a second, what could that mean? Medal winners have been openly gay most of my life. First to win — at Sochi. Talk about your utterly empty symbolic achievements.

        1. Medal winners have been openly gay most of my life.

          There have certainly been unmistakably gay Olympians forever. Not sure when the first one said it out loud, though.

          1. Press conference homosexuality is a relatively new phenomenon, but I recall coverage in the early 80s with athletes who did not seem like they were trying to hide anything. Remember Personal Best? That wasn’t a tale of unique behavior among Olympic athletes.

        2. Greg Louganus was openly gay.

        3. And male figure skaters have to come out as straight.

    2. What are you talking about? The media talks about Russia’s gay problem constantly, and Obama even made a overt political statement about it with the delegation. Even Google is on it.

      1. Ahhh, the resident expert.

  18. Scott asks us why this is a big deal?

    Because ESPN.

    I began boycotting ESPN a couple years ago, their coverage of every sport is crap, especially college football, which they are trying to turn into SEC football (and because they are the largest sports media, they are being quite successful at this).

  19. I know the country is ready; I believe the NFL is ready; I think a team might be ready. Intra-team locker room sentiment aside, call me naive, my confidence dwindles because I think having a media circus tracking and documenting his career will be a huge distraction. Unfortunately for us Libertarians and our friends in the LGBT community, media attention will continue to be a double-edged sword. While your comparison to the military is noble – the closest argument since the NFL unfortunately carries the DADT attitude, there is one major difference: an NFL team is a business. How much of a distraction are you willing to bear to bring in Sam’s talent? Does his skill/value on the field outweigh what he will unquestionably invite into the locker room?

    1. The military has a pretty important job too. I think getting people killed is a bit worse of a downside than losing a game.

      1. Surprised that your first association with “business” is “important”. I was referring to the cost/revenue aspect.

    2. And the last thing any NFL team wants is a media circus.

    3. LFOD-

      my confidence dwindles because I think having a media circus tracking and documenting his career will be a huge distraction.

      THIS.

      There is no football team who wants 300 reporters at every pre-season practice who totally focus on one 4th-6th round draftee- and have the other 70-80 guys on the roster (probably a couple “homophobes” among them) also facing enhanced scrutiny.

      1. Regarding the “Homophobes” comment – this is actually an important point you bring up. Is every individual on that team going to watch every single thing he says or does for fear of being called a “homophobe”? What about the opposing team? If someone does the Richard Sherman choke, for example, are Lawrence O’Donnell or Rachel Maddow from MSNBC going to stretch and call the dude a homophobe due to obscure prejudicial interpretations inferring, the gesture is he is choking on ####?

        1. If you’re bleeping out words, you must be new here.

          1. Kind of. First comment, albeit I have been reading Reason for a couple of years. I don’t like to get into comment pissing matches, heck, I don’t even have Facebook, but Reason is different. Everyone here seems intelligent and has a sense of humor. Hoping to add to the conversation.

        2. Imagine having to carefully police one’s actions so as not to exhibit behaviors that others find distasteful.

    4. Yeah, the cameras will follow him around the entire game, even when he’s off the field. That’s what will make football fans hate him, not the fact that he’s gay.

      1. I should add, even though it’s not his fault. I remember hearing everyone bitch about how they were pissed about Farve and his last minute season playing decisions. I would be like, do you really care or are you just sick of the 24 hour coverage of it. Point taken.

  20. Who cares if “America” is ready? I think what matter is if the players who’ll be sharing a locker room with this guy are ready.

    1. No, it would be the customer. The players will not make that money anywhere else except a fag free team. I only use the terminology of the fan.

  21. I don’t give a shit. How about that? You want a cookie?

  22. It will be interesting to see who will sport his Jersey Number on their back. Bandana sales may sag.

  23. Despite the fear-mongering that it would affect morale, there seems to have been little actual impact in allowing gay men and women serving openly in the military.

    To be fair, the “fear-mongering” was the better part of 20 years ago. In the interim, attitudes have changed. That is to say, isn’t it possible it would have affected morale 20 years ago, but not anymore?

    1. Some people were still making that claim right up to the repeal of DADT.

      But yes, attitudes definitely have changed.

  24. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal for there to be an openly-gay player – most of them are in the closet anyway – along with most fans. . .

    How does the saying go?

    “I play football for the thrill of slapping other men’s butts and being groped inappropriately.”

    I applaud Michael Sam for being at the front of the line to admit it.

  25. I’ll still hate football.

    1. I see this as a tool to help open up the minds of the couchbound meatheads who wouldn’t otherwise be open to it.

      Aside from that I agree. I will still hate football. You can hate something and still see the bright side of it.

  26. Too bad for Scott, in retrospect, he will realize his folly. If a person wants to take up Journalism and he is Gay. Does he announce to the instructors, the other students and the administration that he is Gay? Is there a need to? Does it matter? Why would there be a concern? Do they give him special treatment? Will they give him a Gay diploma? If all of this is NO, What is the purpose, it not for furthering the Gay agenda. Mr. Scott, could you have picked out Mr. Sam, as a Gay? Why not, he was “born” Gay, You can’t find what a person is “born” with? Mind you, they say he came out to his coach and team in August. All his life no one knows, probably not even his Parents. I say, so much for claiming to be “born” that way. Mr. Scott, you are perpetuating a fraud. But it may take years before you discover it. Pity

  27. Reminds me of a corny old joke my Uncle Ralph used to tell:

    What’s the difference between a duck?

    1. Conrad Lerens?

      1. Sorry, Konrad Lorenz?

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