Michael Sam: Hero or No?
"I am an openly, proud gay man."
And with those words, Michael Sam became... well... nothing at the moment. He can't rightly be called the first openly gay football player at an FBS school, because he has left college. Nor can he properly be called the first openly gay NFLer, because he has yet to be drafted.
Baring something truly shocking, however, Sam will become the first openly gay NFLer when he is drafted this May. Sure, some anonymous team officials and a vocal minority of Twits (the unwashed masses who use Twitter as a platform to spew any kind of venom) are ripping Sam, but the overwhelming reaction from the media, the NFL, and fans across the country has been positive. Sam is being portrayed as a bold hero who is overcoming longstanding barriers on the road to equality.
But is that picture true? Is Sam the bold hero that he has been portrayed as?
I think not.
It's an unfair comparison, but Jackie Robinson comes to mind. I say unfair, because equating Sam with Robinson implies that race is equivalent to sexuality. To compare the homosexual rights movement to the civil rights movement does a disservice to the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and James Meredith. They could not choose to stop being black. Sexuality,however, does seem to change. Mayor Bill DiBlasio's wife can attest to that.
But putting aside the differences between the civil rights movement and the homosexual rights movement, let's look at Robinson and Sam. Both broke into the major sports league of the time as the first of their kind.
The differences are much greater than their similarities though. For a while, Robinson's team had a hard time accepting a black teammate. According to himself, Sam's teammates at Missouri had no animosity towards him. The fans booed (to put it much too politely) Robinson vociferously. The comments thread of an ESPN.com article (a notoriously hateful comment section) about Sam's announcement elicited much praise for him coming out and excitement over his draft stock.
Sam will certainly experience some heated hate, but the volume of that hate will pale in comparison to the bile that Robinson faced. Robinson heroically overcome the bigotry of his generation. Sam? He simply rode the cultural tide of commending homosexuality to the primetime spotlight.