I struggle with writing about social issues; not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I fear I won’t do it justice. I thoroughly believe sports can open doors and hearts the way that very few things can. That said, my own apathy for stories involving the personal lives of athletes is well documented. So when Missouri defensive end (and potential 2014 NFL draftee) Michael Sam announces nationally that he is gay, I have a decision to make; do I treat the story as I normally would, peeking into the information only to glean what it might mean to on-field play? Or do I attempt to put the social issue in a larger historical context?
I can’t pretend I care about what Sam does in the bedroom, but I also won’t pretend that his announcement shouldn’t be met with some sort of reaction. Sam’s announcement stands in stark contrast to Jason Collins’ coming out process. Collins was at the end of his career (Collins still hoped to be picked up in free agency, but regardless of why he isn’t playing now, he was undoubtedly in the twilight of his basketball life), while Sam’s declaration on the beginning of the most scrutinized part of his life—a time that will determine his finances in the near future.
I feel like this story should be framed properly. Women have been coming out nationally for years (Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and Sheryl Swoopes to name a few) but it is only the men that have drawn such national media attention. Playing sports is largely (and incorrectly) considered a masculine venture. One of the stigmas associated with being gay is that somehow homosexual men are less than, because of their sexual orientation. I hate to overdo what sports can do for people. I hesitate to say that baseball healed a nation after the Yankees made a run to the World Series following the tragic events of September 11. No amount of runs scored will give thousands of families their loved ones back. But for issues such as the one presently presented with Sam’s announcement, maybe it can dead a ridiculous school of thought relating to the toughness of a man based on who he loves.
The story may be the most important for homosexual adolescents (especially boys) who may fight the stigma of being gay and too “soft” to play sports. In the country’s most violent and tough game, stands an SEC co-defensive player-of-the-year competitor who came out to his team this past august, and was accepted. Surely this story of athletes coming out to their respective teammates will be one repeated more and more frequently in the coming months and years. Eventually it will become so commonplace that it won’t scroll at the bottom of the screen and an alert won’t be sent to your phone; in the interim, pretending we have reached that point rings untrue.