By: Damian Adams
One of the biggest stories of the past few years was the story of Michael Sam. Sam was an elite pass rusher at the University of Missouri, winning the SEC (Southeastern Conference) defensive player of the year. There is a lot talent that comes out of the SEC so winning that award is no easy task. A guy with this type of college resume seems like a shoe in to make in the NFL. Sam was projected to be a 3rd round pick in the NFL draft after his senior year. The narrative of Sam’s story changed drastically when he decided to come out and tell the world he is homosexual. He became the biggest story of the NFL draft that year, his story has gone beyond sports so now everyone in the country was paying attention to him. Sam did not perform well at the NFL combine. (The combine is a chance for NFL prospects to show their athletic and mental skills through workouts and tests.) His stock dropped after the combine and a lot of the experts believed he would get picked in the 4th or 5th round of the draft. Michael Sam did not get picked until the 7th and last round of the draft by the St. Louis Rams. He only played a few preseason games before being cut, he spent some time on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, then after being released by them, had a short stint in the CFL. (Canadian Football League) It is very rare for a former SEC defensive player of the year to fizzle out of professional football as fast as Michael Sam did. Now most of that was because Sam’s skills or lack thereof did not translate to the NFL. I personally believe if he would have never come out as gay. He would have been drafted earlier and still would be in the league now as a special team player and a pass rush specialist.
Why were teams scared to draft the 1st openly gay athlete in the NFL? Sports is probably the last place where homophobia is still accepted and not looked down upon. When Michael Sam was drafted and that image above of him kissing his boyfriend was put on television, the response from NFL players was not all support. NFL players like Don Jones tweeted “horrible” after seeing the man to man kiss on television. I believe because of player reactions other NFL teams did not believe Michael Sam was worth the trouble. A limited player who is gay on top of that. If he knew he wasn’t talented enough to be a star player, I wonder if he would still come out if he could do it all again? We will never know.
Last season the New York Giants took on the Carolina Panthers. It was a really good game that the Carolina Panthers won on a field goal as time expired. There were a lot of headlines from this game, but the biggest one was the battle between elite wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr and elite cornerback Josh Norman. The story should have been about two of the top young talents in the NFL going at it, but the main story became the after play shenanigans of these two athletes, which led to Beckham being suspended for a game and Norman being heavily fined. After the game information started to come out about why these two were behaving in such a way on the field. Reports stated that Norman and other Carolina Panthers taunted Beckham with gay slurs. There is a video of Beckham on the internet looking in the same direction as a guy who bent over. The internet of course took off with this video and started to question Odell’s sexuality. I don’t know if Beckham is gay or not and I don’t care, it doesn’t matter. If Beckham was white, I don’t believe anyone would be questioning is sexuality or care as much. All I know is that Beckham is a top 5 receiver in the NFL and will be good for a long time if he stays healthy. That is all that should matter. If he happens to be gay, then he would not have to worry about getting the Michael Sam treatment because he is definitely worth the distraction. All 32 teams would love to have a wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr on their team, gay or not. Why did the gay slurs bother him so much? Why was Josh Norman able to get inside his head? We don’t know and probably never will but I hope that Odell is able to live his life and still have fun like he does now. He shouldn’t let these types of people get to him on the field or off. Let Odell live his life and if he wants us to know his sexuality, then we will know it, if not, then we won’t. It really should not matter. Josh Norman signed with the Washington Redskins over the summer so now Norman and Odell will be matched twice this season. Hopefully the story after the games are about the actual games.
During a game last season Sacramento Kings Point Guard Rajon Rondo directed a gay slur at referee Bill Kennedy. According to reports it was known in the league that the referee was gay. After the game Bill Kennedy came out and said, “he is a proud gay man.” He handled the situation with class and dignity. The fact that he is gay does not affect his ability to be a good referee. Rondo has since apologized and tweeted that he did not mean to offend anyone in the LGBT community. Rondo was suspended for two games for his actions.
There is a theme with each of these stories, they involve black athletes. I grew up in the south playing sports. We threw around the “F” word with as much comfort as we threw around the “N” word. Now I don’t say either word because I realize the damage each word has done to each community. As black men we tend to look down on gay men. We shouldn’t do that because we are looking at them the same way ignorant white people look at us, as less than. A man’s sexuality should not matter in the world of sports at all. Going forward, I hope we see less of these stories. Black women are able to handle these situations with maturity. The WNBA is full of gay athletes and stories of discrimination or downgrading gay athletes are seen very few and far between. As black athletes and fans, we need to do better and show more acceptance towards people who are different. Let’s mature black men and show the future Michael Sam’s and Bill Kennedy’s of the world that we have love for them just like we have for our heterosexual brothers and sisters.