Since Missouri’s All-American defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement on Sunday February 9 that he was gay, making him the first potential NFL player to be openly gay, it seems like a lot of America could be ready.
Sam’s rise to fame has led him to the next cover of Sports Illustrated, placing the conversation about gays in professional football into the spotlight.
However, some league coaches were quoted anonymously telling Sports Illustrated that Sam’s declaration will “hurt” his standing in the draft; after all, the NFL has never had an openly gay player.
The realization that despite continuously higher levels of public acceptance, the NFL still might not be ready for an openly gay player, led to Dallas’ WFAA Channel 8 sportscaster Dale Hansen speaking his mind on the February 10 newscast.
Calling out the hypocrisy of those opposing Sam’s presence in the NFL, Hansen spoke bluntly and sarcastically, comparing discrimination against Sam’s sexuality to the time when “we were being told that black players couldn’t play in ‘our’ games because it would be ‘uncomfortable.’”
What’s so interesting and disturbing about the NFL officials statements to Sports Illustrated is how they appear more concerned about team morale, which apparently a gay player in the locker room could have a negative impact on, than they are about welcoming “a player who’s poised to be the NFL’s latter-generation Jackie Robinson,” as Brian Solomon of Forbes so eloquently put it.
Instead, the task of pointing out the hypocrisy and bigotry of the NFL’s inability to accept differences so irrelevant to the player on the field is left up to sports announcers like Hansen.
Hansen was quick to point out the absurdity of NFL officials telling Sports Illustrated that Sam’s presence in the locker room “would be uncomfortable, because that’s a man’s world.”
His most poignant statement was said with quiet force as he pointed out NFL players’ history of violence and aggression—stories that must be their definition of a “man’s world.”
On Dale Hansen Unplugged, he said:
“You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft.
“You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome.
“Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they’re welcome.
“Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away?
“You lie to police trying to cover up a murder?
“We’re comfortable with that.
“You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!”
According to the NFL arrest database (yes, there is one), violent behavior appears to be very much the norm on and off the football field. And so, as Hansen pointed out, accepting a gay team member is the least of their worries.
Sam told Sports Illustrated, as quoted on the upcoming magazine cover, “If I was walking down the street and someone asked me if I was gay, I would have told them I was gay. I wasn’t afraid.”
His Missouri team were aware of his sexuality and accepted it, and yet somehow the NFL is not yet ready to accept it. Of course Sam should not have to be afraid, but the sad thing is that his career might well be affected by his sexuality, because people seem to think it is impossible for a gay man to be good at a highly physically exertive sport.
Hopefully, NFL officials will be forced to break down some barriers with public support of Sam growing ever stronger. Either way, Sam is due to be drafted in April—if his recent announcement does not compromise it.
Hansen concluded, “Civil rights activist Audre Lord said: ‘It is not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.’
“I don’t know if that day’s here yet. I guess we’re about to find out. But when I listen to Michael Sam, I do think it’s time to celebrate him now.”