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Michael Sam is a football player, not a media spectacle

Column by Austin Cannon

Austin Cannon-w2000-h2000Barring a career-ending injury or a homophobic tsunami soaking the league’s front offices, Michael Sam will be the NFL’s first openly gay player.

Sam, a defensive end out of Missouri, has already stressed that he only wants to be treated as a football player, but that won’t happen, at least not in the short-term.

The media attention Sam has attracted is unprecedented for a probable mid-round draft pick.

Shortly after Sam came out to the public, anonymous NFL general managers were quoted, saying they would be hesitant to draft Sam because he might be a “distraction.”

Something similar happened to Jason Collins.

The NBA player announced he was gay in April. A free agent, he wasn’t picked up until Feb. 23 by the Brooklyn Nets. He became the first openly gay athlete playing a “Big Four” American sport when he entered the game that day against the Lakers.

However, it’s important not to equate Collins with Sam.

Collins is a 35-year-old journeyman who’s averaged 3.6 points per game in his 13-year career.

Sam, on the other hand, is one of the better defensive players coming out of the best conference in college football with his entire NFL career in front of him, a legitimate prospect.

NBA teams could afford to pass on Collins, making the feasible argument that he was no longer good enough to crack the lineup.

Right now, that argument can’t be made with Sam.

He can rush the passer and defend against the run, something every NFL team always needs.

There will be bigots and cowards who will refuse to draft or coach Sam because of his sexual preference, but the bigger problem is the media attention centered over him.

There will be a point in the late rounds of April’s draft when teams will have to decide if the extra media attention Sam will bring is worth his skills on the football field. The “distraction” issue.

And that’s stupid. He should be picked because of his play on the field. Because he makes plays. Because he’s a good teammate.

The media has investigated every single facet of his life as a gay football player. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated and his “Outside the Lines” interview was played on an endless loop on “SportsCenter.”

He ran a frankly pedestrian 4.91 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 24, yet it captured all sorts of media attention.

A time I can nearly run was being analyzed on multiple ESPN segments, all because the guy who ran it is gay.

No media outside the state of Missouri would have covered Sam’s Combine measurements if it was still assumed he was straight.

I understand that Sam’s NFL debut will be historic, but I still think the media frenzy accompanying it is unnecessary.

I’m happy for Sam. He is comfortable in his own skin and that’s all that should matter. The problem is, it doesn’t.

Many people, both inside and out of the media, want to champion Sam as a Jackie Robinson of sorts. I did, too, for a while (his number at the Combine was 42 for goodness sake), but now it’s time to focus on Michael Sam the football player.

When he came out to his Mizzou teammates before his senior season, they accepted him and went on to have an unexpected 12-2 season.

It was not a big deal to them. They treated him like a regular teammate, maybe because there was no media attention.

It’s 2014. Most industry experts are willing to guess there are already gay players in the NFL, perhaps keeping their secret to avoid the media’s spotlight, shielding themselves, their teammates and the organization from scrutiny.

The spotlight that’s focused on Sam will probably not go dark until he plays his first NFL down. The franchise that signs him will have to be prepared to endure that attention.

Best case, Sam endures the media’s attention and helps usher in more gay players, promoting the league’s policy of “acceptance, not tolerance.”

Then, perhaps, we can return our focus to the field.

Cannon is a sophomore news-Internet and politics double major and can be reached at tdsportsed@gmail.com

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1 Comment

  1. Matt O. March 6, 2014

    Not only did the team know, but most of Mizzou’s campus knew by the end of the season, it just simply wasn’t an issue here in CoMo.

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