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Will the NFL Make Way for Its First Openly Gay Player?

Posted on Feb 10, 2014

  Football player Michael Sam has said that he’s never had any trouble with his teammates stemming from his sexual orientation, despite some of his coaches’ concerns. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

University of Missouri’s All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam is set to be picked in the early rounds of the NFL’s May draft. But is the league, known for its “machismo and violence,” ready for an involuntary change in image?

It sure as hell should be, given the times and the fact that many players in the NFL haven’t felt comfortable coming out until after retirement, if it all. However, if the league is to grow at the same pace as the rest of American society, it’s time it opened its arms and teams to publicly gay talent such as Sam. At least, that’s what sports reporter Juliet Macur stands by in her piece about the NFL prospect in Sunday’s New York Times.

Sam, who came out Sunday to quash rumors already circulating about his sexuality without his having a say, was met with the following statement from the league: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the N.F.L. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” Others in the league met Sam’s announcement with uneasiness, however; one NFL personnel assistant stated, “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” and claimed it will be years before gay slurs leave the locker room.

And how will the teams and, perhaps more important, the fans react to the news?

The New York Times:

Now, change is about to come to the N.F.L., the behemoth of the American sports landscape. It was inevitable, but the league now finds itself in a difficult, and potentially awkward, predicament… It is a league rich with alpha males bursting with muscles who unapologetically smash into one another, to the delight of millions of fans.

Initially, it may be hard for many viewers, and some football players, to see Sam, who announced publicly Sunday that he was gay, as another hard-nosed tough guy on his team’s defense. But I suspect he will change their perceptions, if a team gives him a chance.

Some fans will love him, some will hate him. Some may reserve judgment until they see him rip the heads off his opponents, just as any other defensive player would do.

Like so many other minorities, Sam will have to work harder to prove his worth. Fans will probably judge him more harshly, and he will have to perform better than other rookies to prove he belongs in the N.F.L.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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