BY BRANDON SHRIDER
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
This quote became famous when professional basketball player, Jason Collins announced his homosexuality to the world and became the first openly gay professional team athlete.
Coincidentally, a very similar utterance was made by former University of Missouri defensive end, Michael Sam in an ESPN interview in which Sam states:
“I’m a college graduate. I’m African American. And I’m gay.”
The parallel between these two statements go beyond the text itself. These two athletes have unquestionably become pioneers for further acceptance of those who associate with the LGBT community.
However, this relation between the statements of Collins and Sam are not brought to attention by the media, instead, the media has focused their attention to the “shock” that this courageous stance by Sam has provoked.
Sure, listening to the co-defensive player of the best Division I collegiate football conference announce to the world that he is openly gay may come as a surprise, but that should not warrant the startling and overwhelming response by the media.
If we, as the media, continue to act in such a manner to a subject that we’ve tried to integrate, then the question arises: How much progress has really been made?
Thus, the indictment to the media is the overreaction to the lone action by Michael Sam as opposed to analyzing his action, its relation to history, and its impact on the future.
Certainly, ESPN was able to compile the opinions of a plethora of reporters and former players including Mel Kiper Jr., Jeff Saturday, Antonio Pierce, Herman Edwards, among many others. These “special guests” were able to provide input on his elevation or lack thereof for Sam’s NFL draft stock, how his identity will be accepted in an NFL locker room, and the media coverage that will accompany him and his team as he reaches the next level.
While these make for popular entertainment and leisure conversation, they fail to address the vital story that is, Michael Sam has a chance to innovate the way professional team sports handle and accept media attention, and how gay athletes are entirely accepted by the community of team contact sports.
Sam has a chance to innovate professional football much the same way that Jackie Robinson innovated professional baseball by metaphorically “breaking” the color barrier.
Certainly the play of Sam in between the lines will ultimately dictate the future impact that Sam will have on NFL history, but it’s the opportunity now presented to Sam that should be embraced.
And its this notion that should become the real story, and propel a coming out party for the entire LGBT community, and the acceptance of this lifestyle into professional sports.