Friday, February 28, 2014

Judge him on football ability, period

       I am not here to endorse or condemn homosexuality. But I will endorse Michael Sam's right to play in the NFL.
      Whether or not he becomes an NFL player, he's already a success. There is much debate if he will even make a team -- or get a chance, for that matter -- but to "come out" and publicly state that he is gay took courage.
      So he's a gay football player. So what?
      He's a football player, that's what the NFL is about. Sam himself said this, and I totally agree: If he is good enough to make a team and, more importantly, good enough to help a team win games, he will play.
Michael Sam (from
      All the other stuff ... it's superfluous. Something for everyone to discuss.
      Much has been written and talked about in the past three weeks, (Dallas) WFAA/Ch. 8 sports anchor Dale Hansen's commentary supporting Sam went viral, or national, or was trending -- whatever term you want -- and now I'm giving my thoughts because, as we used to kid about Jerry Byrd's sports columns in the old Shreveport Journal, I want to get in my two cents' worth.
      My wife says I'm piling on. True.
      But I have had friends ask my opinion, and I have asked friends for their opinion. And I have to say this -- whether you like it or not -- I admire this young man.
      I had one friend tell me that "this is the ruination of the NFL" and, on a large scale, what's wrong with America today. I had another question "the elephant in the room," Sam's presence in an NFL locker room.
      One view is that Sam increased the pressure on himself in his bid to earn a roster spot on an NFL team, and the pressure on whatever team, coaches and administrators willing to draft him. I agree.
      Because, wanted or unwanted, this is a media story. It was inevitable that an active or prospective NFL player would say he was gay, and the media would be all over the story.
      I dare say a number of sports across the spectrum are filled with gay athletes. Some, but not many, have "come out" publicly, such as Jason Collins in the NBA and Robbie Rogers in Major League Soccer. And there are gay coaches out there, too.
      Here is a question: How many locker-room incidents, how many reports of "unsavory" behavior, have you heard or read about?
      I can think of one -- a recent WNBA player, a prominent one, in an incident with her ex-girlfriend, also in the WNBA.
      There have been, in my opinion, much uglier cases involving sports figures -- the O.J. Simpson and Rae Carruth murder trials, the Aaron Hernandez mess, the Miami Dolphins' locker-room hazing/bullying, and the Coach Jerry Sandusky child molestation over a long number of years.
      Yes, Michael Sam might face some locker-room challenges, might have to deal with teammates -- or opposing players -- with things to say or pranks to play. The "jokes" are already going public.
      But a young man who has been living a gay life most likely already has faced those type challenges. If he was afraid, he would not have made this public. He must feel that being open and honest is the best way to face this in the NFL.
      No pulling offensive guard or tackle going to block Michael Sam is going to stop and ask him if it's true that he's gay. Nor is Michael Sam, after a sack, going to ask the quarterback, "How does it feel to be sacked by a gay guy?"
      Now the tackle or back that he slips past to get the sack might hear it from his teammates, but -- as I noted about the Dolphins -- we've seen what kidding around can lead to on a football team.
      So you'd hope these players would be grown up about this, as much as NFL players grow up.
      We know there have been gay players in the NFL, and in the NBA, and in Major League Baseball. But we always found out afterward. Again, did you hear of any incidents involving those players?
      So, yes, Michael Sam is breaking a barrier. So did Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, and so many others -- blacks and women -- in sports over the past 60 years. We no longer are concerned with how many blacks are on our favorite teams, and I'm disappointed when women are told they don't belong in auto racing or they don't receive equal prize money in major tennis events.
      This is another "first" in the sports world, and I'll be glad when a "first" isn't a media story. Might not happen in our lifetime.
       Here's what gives me hope. Michael Sam "came out" to his Missouri coaches and teammates before last season began. No one said a word publicly; this story did not break until Michael announced it early this month.
       All he did was play football -- good football, SEC Defensive Player of the Year -- and help Missouri win the SEC East and win the Cotton Bowl game. So what if he's gay?
       Since his announcement, there has been support from all over. Critics, too, of course, including the "anonymous" NFL sources.
       When the extremists from Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kans. -- known primarily for their anti-gay protests -- came to the Missouri campus to protest Sam's announcement, some 2,000 Missouri students turned out in very cold weather and staged their own protest -- a long wall, with their backs turned to the Westboro people.
       As another of my friends suggested last week, maybe this younger generation is the generation that will accept that homosexuality is here to stay -- it's always been here, really -- and out in the open, and it's OK. Even for football players.
       Honestly, I'd never heard of Michael Sam before three weeks ago. LSU didn't play Missouri, and I am not a close enough follower of other teams to know much about their players. Now I'm reading and hearing that he is undersized for an NFL defensive end, but his speed and pass-rush ability -- and a possible move to outside linebacker, if he can do it -- could make him an NFL player.
       But Mel Kiper Jr., who we know knows more about the NFL Draft than anyone (that's what we've heard for years), projects him as a fourth-round pick, at best, depending on whatever team is willing to deal with the "distractions."
       When I suggested to a friend that the Dallas Cowboys might draft Sam, or take him as a free agent, because Jerry Jones is always publicity-conscious and unafraid of distractions, he said the Cowboys would lose a lot of fans. Yeah, like three 8-8 seasons in a row -- and no playoffs-- doesn't do that.
       If Michael Sam can consistently shed blockers and make tackles, if he can whip the guys in front of him, if he helps a team win the Super Bowl and holds up the Lombardi Trophy, you think that team's fans will care if he's gay? They'll be cheering him like a champion.
       And if he doesn't make an NFL team, or even gets much of a chance, I think he'll still be all right with himself and with plenty of others. Plus, I just don't see the NFL falling apart. Not yet. 


  1. From Jerie Shirley Black: Most excellent piece. Hope your reach is far.

  2. From Bud Dean: Couldn't agree more.

  3. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: The second paragraph says it all. So what? Why is it necessary to know anyone's sexuality? Why is it necessary to know their ethnicity? Why is it necessary to know their religion? In other words, why do we continue to label people at all? Any label is divisive and I do not think "diversity" leads to a better world. We are all human beings. After that, we start labeling. Male, female, transgender. Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Native American, etc. Tall, short, fat, skinny, etc.
    Until we just respect and embrace each other as the one thing we have in common--being human--we will always be dealing with bigotry. In the words of Dennis Miller, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

  4. From David Henington: Well done and right on.

  5. From Teddy Allen: Thanks for writing a column that is, in the mildest sense, about a hot topic, and controversial. Not necessarily this particular person, but the issue its ownself.

  6. From Maxie Hays: Excellent, Nico, excellent. I totally agree. Well said, my friend.

  7. From Sylvia Pesek: YES! Bravo! Anybody who thinks it's just fine to have guys in the locker room who have killed people, but NOT OK to have a guy in there who happens to be gay has some serious issues with their priorities. After all, one of the 10 commandments says, "Thou shall not kill" but not ONE of them says a mumblin' word about "Thou shall not be gay." ... Way to go, Nico.

  8. From Ben Sour: My niece goes to Missouri. We talked to her last week. After like 30 minutes, I asked her about Michael Sam. She had posted a pic of she and four girlfriends dressed to the nines in a popular campus bar posing for a picture with Michael. She said that everyone knew Michael was gay and were surprised that the rest of the country was making such a big deal about it all of a sudden.
    Years ago there was an antigay bill on the ballot in California. (It was proposed by a local state rep whose son was openly gay.) Our rabbi showed me the stats on who voted for and who against. People under a certain age voted against; people over a certain age voted for. His point: It's a generational issue, and younger people tend to be more tolerant of alternate lifestyles. And their demographic is growing.
    Sports is a great equalizer. If you can help a team win, that tends to overcome prejudice, as Jackie Robinson and Jerry Levias proved also.