Michael Sam Risked Everything—And We All Won
May 10, 2014
When Michael Sam’s team and I first started talking about the timing of Michael’s coming out earlier this year, there were some real sensitivities that drove the decision making.
First, it was important that he do it as early before the NFL Draft as possible. NFL teams had to settle in with the idea of a gay athlete well before the selection process. It couldn’t be sprung on them weeks before they descended on Radio City Music Hall. Moments after his historic announcement, various experts criticized the timing as too risky, saying he had jeopardized his future in the NFL by coming out before the NFL Draft.
But coming out after the draft was never a consideration. Michael wanted to be drafted by a team that wanted him for all that he is. He wasn’t interested in hiding his sexual orientation — trying to keep a secret from his future teammates, coaches, and front office. He wanted a team that would embrace him and his boyfriend, one that wouldn’t shy away from the fact that he is gay.
It was all a big risk. But in sports, heroes aren’t made by running the ball up the middle on third and long and punting. You don’t win anything without risking something.
Michael risked his career. Today, everyone won.
The St. Louis Rams, including general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher, locked up the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a pass-rushing specialist in a division with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. They will also, like Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers, forever be linked to breaking a barrier in sports that just weeks ago was thought impossible to overcome.
This wasn’t just a football decision. It was history in the making.
The National Football League demonstrated it is in fact a meritocracy. Despite the naysayers claiming Michael would struggle to find a home because NFL teams didn’t want the “distraction” of a gay player on their team, Michael’s character, work ethic, and skill shined through. He is now the first openly gay active athlete in our nation’s bellwether of masculinity. The NFL has been portraying itself as a welcoming place for all people. Today, that image is reality.