The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

Openly gay football player makes NFL history

On Feb. 9, 2014, football player Michael Sam of the University of Missouri gave a history-making interview on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

An All-American defensive lineman and recent SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Sam is the first ever NFL prospect to come out, and has the potential to make history as the first openly gay professional football player.

“I understand how big this is,” Sam said in the ESPN interview. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be. I want to be a football player in the NFL.”

While his decision came as a shock to some, Sam is far from being the first openly gay athlete. Professionals such as tennis player Billie Jean King, diver Greg Louganis, soccer player Abby Wambach, basketball player Jason Collins and baseball player Glenn Burke have come out since the 1970s.

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The NFL, however, has never had a gay player become public about his sexual orientation while still in the NFL. David Kopay, who played for multiple teams including the Washington Redskins, was the first former NFL player to come out in 1975, three years after he retired from playing professional football. Since Kopay, only four other NFL players have come out as openly gay, all after the end of their professional careers. If Sam gets selected in the May 2014 draft, he will have the chance to change the status of openly gay athletes everywhere.

The NFL, America’s pride and joy, is the biggest sports league in the country, and 111.5 million people watched the past Super Bowl, making it the most viewed  U.S.  telecast ever.

Having an openly gay man with this kind of national exposure has the potential to change the way gay men are perceived. The NFL has access to audiences that are relatively untouched by the LGBT community. If Sam is drafted and performs the way he is capable of performing, he could start changing minds along with changing games.

The NFL sets the precedent for the national sports community, so if people welcome a gay football player into the NFL, any other athlete or any other LGBT individual should be able to feel less stress and have more acceptance from the public and the media.

While his coming out is groundbreaking, it is not the only thing that should be important.

When it comes down to the game, Sam’s playing should eventually be what is doing the talking and making a statement. Ultimately, his acceptance into the NFL will be shown if he is recognized for his plays on the field instead of his homosexuality.

“I’ve grown up in a great generation [that is] more accepting of people,” Sam said in a Feb. 9 Sports Illustrated interview. “We’re living in 2014. I just see only possibility and great opportunity.”

With the draft approaching, America has a decision to make. Football lovers across the country can either accept an atypical player and give him the respect that they would give any other future Redskin, Giant, Seahawk, Eagle or Patriot, or they can let the personal life of a man affect their opinion of him as an athlete.

Yes, Sam is different. He is history in the making, but what would be even more groundbreaking is for society to allow him to be defined by more than just one word.

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Openly gay football player makes NFL history