Time is ticking for Michael Sam. The defensive end from the University of Mississippi has gotten plenty of attention since announcing he is gay. But it is going to take more than coming out to get a job on an NFL team. Sam is in a unique position where he can change the culture of professional football. But it will be his talent and not his sexual orientation that will determine if he makes it in the NFL.
Before I continue, if you are not a football fan (or a fan of any professional sports team), you might be wondering what I mean by on the clock? Teams take turns when drafting players. When it comes to one team’s turn to draft a player, they only have a certain amount of time to make their selection. They are on the clock. I use that term on Michael Sam in reference to the Andy Warhol theory — where everyone is famous for 15 minutes.
No one I know has had a long playing career in sports just because they relied solely on their race, religion, or gender. Nobody would be talking about Jackie Robinson today if his baseball career lasted one game or one season. Being gay or lesbian is no different. I think Sam knows only his play on the field will determine whether he ends up being a back-up or gets a spot in Canton. But the media is leaning so much on his homosexuality that it will do him and his football career more harm than good and I’m not talking about how his future teammates will react to him in the locker room. His sexual orientation is going to be a distraction but how he handles it will be the difference. By the way, I think people will be in for a surprise as to who Sam’s detractors are. Homophobia does come in all colours, sexes, religions, and political stripes.
Sam will be embraced by everyone once he dons an NFL uniform. That’s until his next hit that sends a quarterback/running back/receiver/lineman to the hospital. Then his supporters will turn and call him a dirty player. But I can bet Sam will take that criticism over the talk about being the only openly gay football player in the NFL. Right now, that’s all he’s got going for him. Sam better use his time wisely.
UPDATE (MAY 22, 2015):
Sam signs with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.