The mainstream media keeps telling us that a National Football League prospect, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, is gay. Which raises an interesting question: What does Sam’s sexual orientation have to do with his value — or lack of same — as a professional football player?
Here’s my politically incorrect answer to that question: Nothing. Zero. Nada. Was it really necessary for Sports Illustrated to devote six pages to a related question: “Is America Ready for Michael Sam?” Of course America, and the NFL, are ready for Sam if his on-field performance lives up to the preseason hype. He should be judged by his ability and skills as a football player rather than by irrelevant factors such as his sexual preference. Let him get out on the field and prove that he belongs there. That’s all that matters because the NFL isn’t some kind of New Age social experiment; it’s a multibillion-dollar business.
Sam handled the gay issue rather well during a news conference at the recent NFL “combine,” which attempts to determine whether incoming college players are ready for pro football.
“I just wish you guys (the media) would see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of as Michael Sam the gay football player,” he said. “I want to play for whoever picks me up as a defensive end or an outside linebacker to rush the passer.” At 6-2 and 255 pounds, Sam was named the Southeastern Conference’s (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. So he’ll be drafted for sure and will probably turn out to be a valuable defensive player for the team that drafts him.
That should be the end of this story, but it probably won’t be, because the media will milk it for all it’s worth. I can hardly wait for the first idiot to ask the inevitable question, “How did it feel to be tackled by a gay linebacker?”
“It hurt,” the running back might reply. “This kid can play.”
The Sam story reminds me of last year’s media madness involving Notre Dame’s former All-America linebacker Mantei Te’o, who was ridiculed for having a nonexistent online girlfriend. It was, as Shakespeare might say, much ado about nothing. Te’o went on to perform well for the San Diego Chargers last season and pretty much disappeared from the sports pages.
Sam isn’t the only gay professional athlete who’s dealing with media hype. Exhibit “B” is Jason Collins, a 7-foot, 35-year-old professional basketball player nearing the end of his playing career. He averaged 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards last year, which means that he can’t jump and he can’t shoot. Nevertheless, the Brooklyn Nets signed him to a 10-day contract last week because he’s tall and can still collect a few rebounds.
“Who will have the courage to sign Jason Collins?” the sports media asked last year.But the decision wasn’t about “courage”; it was about Collins’ ability to play up to NBA standards at the “advanced” (in the sports world) age of 35. We’ll see what he can do for the struggling Nets. Not much is my guess.
Professional athletes should be judged on their athletic ability and nothing else. Sexual preferences and ethnic, racial, religious or political factors simply don’t matter. Sandy Koufax, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ legendary Hall of Fame pitcher and one of Major League Baseball’s all-time greats, is Jewish. So what?
I have gay friends, gay neighbors and gay relatives, and I respect and treasure them all. Leave them alone and let them live their lives, just like everyone else.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a lifelong sports fan.