Michael Sam has made it perfectly clear that he just wants to be treated like any other football player. He likely felt the world was ready to have an openly gay player in the NFL, so he made his huge announcement.
I agree that most of the world is ready.
Unfortunately, national sports media outlets such as ESPN are part of that world and they are not ready.
First of all, let me clearly state that I am not writing to say anything bad about Sam. I think it was incredibly brave of him to be a pioneer for more athletes — and people anywhere — to feel comfortable and be true to themselves. He has handled the vast amount of attention an announcement like that is sure to get in this day and age extremely well from day one.
But with that sort of attention comes page views and television ratings, and that’s where the national media start to lose their heads.
In July, former NFL coach Tony Dungy told The Tampa Tribune he would have steered clear of Sam in the NFL Draft.
“I wouldn’t have taken him,” Dungy said. “Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it.”
The national media exploded, with articles brandishing Dungy as homophobic and calling him intolerant for not wanting the “distraction” of having Sam on his team.
The thing is, though, those articles bashing Dungy’s comments completely validated them.
See, Dungy was not saying that he wouldn’t want Sam on his team because of his sexual orientation. In fact, he made it clear that he was not saying that.
Dungy wanted to avoid the media circus that surrounds a player who is prevalent in the public image, especially one who was only a seventh-round pick and didn’t make the St. Louis Rams’ final roster.
You know, the kind of media circus that leads to someone’s comments being taken completely out of context and causing that person to be branded a homophobe. The same kind of media circus that had Sam’s NFL future in doubt until it was reported on Tuesday that he would undergo a medical and sign with the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday. Even if Sam does make the Dallas practice squad — which ESPN reported is the Cowboys’ plan — there is no guarantee he will play a down in the NFL.
The way ESPN and other outlets have covered Sam since he publicly announced he is gay does make me question how ready for this day they really were.
For Sam to be just another football player, as I certainly hope he can and will be, more has to happen than just him being able to comfortably take a shower with his teammates.
To be just another football player, ESPN has to not feel the desire to publish a story about Sam’s post-practice cleaning.
Numerous football players get cut during and at the conclusion of training camp and the preseason. Can you guess which player’s release ESPN sent out a breaking news alert about? And then another about how he cleared waivers?
It really doesn’t matter if Sam is a benchwarmer, a star or never gets to play a snap in the NFL.
He came out, handled it with bravery and class, and showed that a man who has a boyfriend can still line up across from the offense just the same as a straight man can.
What the media have shown are that they are determined to work so hard to convince everyone that a gay man can be “just another player” that they are turning him into a sort of sideshow attraction. If he were just another player, each preseason sack he registers wouldn’t be a breaking news story.
I am positive the world is ready for openly gay athletes.
I’m just not sure the media are.