THE SANTA CLARA
May 22, 2014
While a small handful of athletes came out after retiring from football, most notably lineman Kwame Harris, who was outed by an ex-boyfriend in 2012 after an alleged assault, no players ever came out while playing the hyper-masculine sport.
It is not surprising that none of the athletes welcomed such a harsh spotlight before Sam bravely chose to voice his sexuality. Just how harsh could a reaction be among players?
All it takes is a glance a mere five and a half miles down the road from campus, where San Francisco 49er cornerback Chris Culliver is undoubtedly striving to find creative new ways to let open receivers slip by him, to find an answer.
Most recently infamous for calling a 15-year-old child terms that cannot even be printed here, Culliver drew criticism last year for taking full advantage of the enormous media presence before 2012’s Super Bowl to state in the most intelligent way possible, “Nah. We don’t got no gay people on the team. You know, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
While Culliver’s sentiments hopefully are not shared by his NFL peers, several of whom reacted quite angrily to his comments, his comments paint football locker rooms as anything but a safe space.
Yet for every Chris Culliver, many have stepped up in support of gay teammates. Easily the most recognizable voice is that of Chris Kluwe, the former Minnesota Vikings punter who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of homophobia in sports.
As LGBT ally Kluwe put it in a piece for CNN last year, “It’s not right that professional sports, and especially sports media, have created an environment where gay players are willing to hide essential components of themselves as human beings in order to pursue their dreams.”
Kluwe’s words stand testament to the shifting national sentiment toward sexuality. With dozens of states legalizing gay marriage, the removal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policies from the armed forces and national anti-homophobia movements and organizations the likelihood of an NFLer coming out has steadily increased.
Changing views do not, however, make coming out any easier. Michael Sam deserves our utmost support for his bravery. To come out in any setting is one of the most difficult and life-changing events anyone could possibly face. To do so as an NFL hopeful is even more admirable.
The timing of Michael Sam’s coming-out is especially important to note. The months leading up to the draft are filled with intense scrutiny of prospects who can find themselves falling out of the draft for anything viewed as a character flaw.
In fact, Sam’s bravery did hurt his overall draft stock. Prior to the draft, Sam had been lauded by many, including NFL draft guru Mike Mayock, who commended Sam’s “high-level production in the best conference in football.” Ultimately though, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, viewed to be a mid round selection by several draft analysts, fell all the way to the last dozen picks in the draft.
After a long and stressful wait, Sam was ultimately drafted by the St. Louis Rams, immediately cementing his place in NFL history. Now, his story is anything but over.
It is almost certain that he will never reach the level of talent as, say, Jadeveon Clowney, the first overall pick of the draft, but Sam is still a player everyone should know and follow. He may never play in the Pro Bowl, or be named Super Bowl MVP, but true NFL fans should still don his jersey.
They should support the 24-year-old who just wants to play football. They must say, for everyone to hear, that while there is no place in the NFL for the likes of Chris Culliver, the NFL will always be ready for Michael Sam.
Most importantly, they will demonstrate to the frightened people still in closets all over the world, that the largest and loudest fan base in the United States will not view whom a draftee chooses to kiss as a distraction. Michael Sam is now a Ram. He will always be a hero, in addition to being a football player, and that is all that should matter.
Thomas Curran-Levett is a sophomore political science major and editor of the Opinion section.