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NFL draft pick tackles stereotype

Recently, a young man made a daring and admirable move that has turned the sports world on end.

Michael Sam plays football for the University of Missouri where he helped his team win the Cotton Bowl this year and was named the Associated Press’ defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. Sam is expected to be a first round pick in the upcoming NFL (National Football League) draft.

Last week, Sam decided it was time to, as he put it, “own my truth.” So, he told the nation what his Missouri teammates already knew – he is gay.

Currently, the NFL does not have a single openly gay player on any of their teams. The overly macho, and often homophobic, atmosphere has not made it very easy for men considering outing themselves. If drafted, Sam would break the barriers to add another exploit to his already long list of achievements.

However, that is one rather large “if.”

Since Sam’s announcement, there has been debate among the football community. Players, fans, management and analysts alike have speculated the consequences of Sam’s actions.

Several are worried that Sam put his possible professional football career on the line by making his sexual orientation public before the draft. They fear he will be passed over now because the NFL may not be ready for an openly gay player.

Others are concerned that if he is drafted, the team he is on may face unnecessary hurdles throughout the season. As mentioned above, there are several members of the NFL who harbor homophobic opinions. This may lead to what can best be described as bullying from other teams, coaches, and even refs. Harder hits, unfair calls, and verbal abuse may all be waiting for Sam and his teammates on the field.

A New Orleans Saints linebacker recently said he did not want a gay teammate. In addition, a former player claims he was pushed to leave the Minnesota Vikings because he supported same-sex marriage laws. Last year, a San Francisco 49er’s player said that gay players should keep their sexuality a secret in order to play football only coming out 10 years after leaving the sport.

There is no shortage of manly men in the NFL, nor is there a shortage of homophobic examples. However, there is a shortage of openly gay men. Hopefully, Sam’s bravery to out himself will be rewarded by being drafted. Even better, may his courage be passed on to current and prospective players that they may be able to come out as well.

All the while, there is the sad reality that the NFL may not be ready for this transition and he may not be drafted at all. If that is the case, the NFL will need to take a good reflective look and decide the kind of organization they want to be: an organization that recruits based on a player’s talent and ability or an organization that accepts hate and discrimination and is so shallow they will pass over amazing players because of it.

In the end, it really comes down to only one question: Is Michael Sam going to help his team win? A winner is a winner regardless of his or her sexual orientation.

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