Hats off to Michael Sam.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, former Missouri pass rusher and 2014 NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announced on Sunday that he is a gay man, setting him up to be the first openly gay NFL player in it’s history.
Sam knew the possible risks of his announcement; falling draft stock, alienation from future teammates, taunting from fans, the list goes on. But none of that stopped the 24-year old from coming out publicly, and hopefully paving the way for other NFLers, athletes, and people everywhere to not be afraid to tell the world who they are. Sam’s courage is something we can all learn from.
Following his announcement, the talk immediately turned to the possible effects on his NFL dream, and word got out that a group of anonymous GMs believed that Sam did indeed damage his draft stock with his announcement. But in a refreshing statement, Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations, and now GM, John Elway made it clear that he was not part of that group.
“I applaud Michael Sam and wish him the very best as he continues the pursuit of his NFL dream,” Elway said Monday. “As we look toward the combine and draft, we will evaluate Michael just like any other draft prospect — on the basis of his ability, character and NFL potential. His announcement will have no effect on how we see him as a football player.”
Elway didn’t have to say anything, and that would have been plenty, but the Denver legend took it a step further, going to bat for Sam.
“Having spent 16 years in an NFL locker room, the bottom line is that it’s about treating others with respect and earning that respect,” he explained. “By all indications, it appears Michael has done just that throughout his football career.”
Spot on, John.
As other GMs hid behind the curtain and made statements without the courage to put their name to it (the irony is strong here given the courage just displayed by a 24-year old kid), Elway opted to make a statement, and it was absolutely the right move.
Not only does this send a nice message to Michael Sam that he will not be downgraded by the whole NFL for being who he is, it sends a message to the Broncos current and future players that Elway will have their back. It also finally sheds a positive light on the Broncos organization as one of acceptance, and there really isn’t a way to negatively spin that.
Broncos fans can be grateful that Elway isn’t spewing stuff like this.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said yet another anonymous NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
A “man’s-man game?” This is as more of an insult to men as a whole than it is to anything else. Not only is it implying that being a man is about being straight, but also that being a man is about not accepting of those who aren’t straight. Is that really what being a man is about, or is being a man more along the lines of what Elway spoke about, treating others with respect, and earning that same respect?
As a man I’d sure like to believe it’s the latter.
The Missouri Tigers knew that Sam was gay in August, and nobody seemed to really care. They man’s-man gamed their way to a 12-2 record and an SEC-East championship, while Sam man’s-man gamed himself to an SEC leading 12.5 sacks and an SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. Although it was probably that chemical imbalance in the locker room that caused Andrew Baggett to clank a field goal off of the left upright in double overtime against South Carolina, that cost Mizzou their National Championship dreams. If only Baggett’s teammates could have made jokes about what his last name rhymes with all year, he probably would have made it.
Denver can rest easy knowing that the chemical balance of the Broncos locker room doesn’t rest on the ability of the players to throw around gay slurs, and is more about being filled with players who earn the respect of their teammates, and can help the team win.
Michael Sam may or may not end up as a Denver Bronco, but John Elway’s comments have sent out a very important message to Broncos fans and the rest of the NFL about the type of organization they are running; if everybody else wants to pass up on Sam due to his sexual orientation, the Broncos will gladly take him because he is a Hell of a football player and by all accounts a Hell of a great teammate as well.
Hats off to Michael Sam, hats off to the Missouri Tigers, and hats off to John Elway.
Follow Ryan on Twitter (@RyanKoenigsberg).
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