An athlete is more than just his sexual orientation
Sunday, March 09, 2014 12:24 AM
Hey, have you heard? Former University of Missouri football player Michael Sam is gay.
Surely, you have heard it once — or a couple hundred times — from the gazillion other instances they've mentioned it in the media.
I even heard it again on the television this morning. He is set to become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
My response? "I know."
How could I not know? It's impossible not to know.
Sometimes, I wonder if they forgot Sam was last season's defensive MVP of the Southeastern Conference?
To illustrate the significance of that honor, consider this:
If you're a running back in most conferences, you worry about losing the ball. If you're a running back in the SEC, you worry about losing your head.
The trenches in the SEC, traditionally, is the gridiron equivalent of "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots."
And, no one was feared more last season than Sam.
Now, back to why he received so much attention away from football.
First of all, I respect Sam's bravery for coming out.
Publicly, only a few NFL players before Sam revealed they're gay — but that was after they were no longer with teams.
Reportedly, critical comments by current NFL players such as soon-to-be free agent Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints) and another soon-to-be free agent Terrell Thomas (New York Giants) on how gays might be accepted in an NFL locker room do paint a picture of the potential challenges Sam faces once he is on an NFL team.
But considering Sam played on such a big stage in college football, he is probably already aware of them.
But considering Sam came out to his Missouri teammates — and they embraced him — before this past season when the Tigers eventually reached the SEC title game gives hope for his acceptance in the NFL.
In society, even.
However, we're not there, yet.
Why? It's because Sam is still being referred to as openly gay more so than being a talented football player.
Acceptance means embracing the person. The complete person.
The same goes for Jason Collins, the NBA's first openly gay player. The Brooklyn Nets recently signed him to a 10-day contract.
In the news release relating to that 10-day stint, it contained a quote from Nets general manager Billy King, emphasizing Collins' signing was a "basketball decision."
That 10-day contract expired. But now, Collins is in the midst of playing on a second 10-day deal with the Nets.
Brooklyn's news release about Collins' second 10-day contract simply referred to him as a center who had appeared in five games this season, scoring three points and accounting for five rebounds.
There were no quotes by anyone defending Collins' signing. It was as if the Nets signed a regular player.
Now, that's progress.
When we begin simply referring to the person and what that person does in his or her chosen profession — and nothing more — that's when true acceptance begins.
That's the case in sports. That's also the case in society.
It's only a matter of time before that kind of progress is made on any sports front.
Can Collins produce on the court? Can Sam hit on the field?
Those factors are all that should should matter.
It would be as if they were just known as professional athletes.
Nothing less. Nothing more.
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 223-1813; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY . Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.