By Jason Menard,
Tonight, we were privy to what was, in my opinion, the best seventh-round selection of the NFL draft. And I hope we’ll have more of these moments in the near future so that, eventually, they won’t be special.
The video of Michael Sam receiving a phone call from the St. Louis Rams notifying him that he was their seventh-round selection is powerful, emotional, and uplifting. The image of his boyfriend, holding his hand and comforting Sam as the player struggles to regain his composure, is touching. And the kiss between the two was natural, organic, and will have ultimately no impact on his on-field abilities.
But the Sam situation was unnecessarily different. And it shows how far we have to go in this society until what should be considered normal actually is.
No other seventh-round pick has a TV crew in his living room. No other marginal prospect was so closely watched. And it’s all because Sam is the first openly gay prospect to be drafted by a team.
Sam deserves full credit for earning the Arthur Ashe courage award, because what he did was courageous. In today’s world — much less today’s sports world — coming out isn’t easy. To do so, knowing the microscope that he would be put under, is admirable and inspiring.
And tonight’s selection can be seen as a watershed moment. But it’s also an effective way to keep the critics at bay.
Simply put, Sam had to be drafted by the NHL in some people’s minds. Regardless of his talent, his potential, and his ability, Sam’s draft status was not a matter of an evaluation of his status as a football player; it was a referendum on sexuality.
Usually players would rather not be drafted in the seventh round. At that point, they’d rather be able to sign with the team of their choosing as an undrafted free agent, so that they can select the situation that gives them the best chance to stick with a team.
The fact is that the scrutiny isn’t going to stop. Most seventh-round selections are cut from their teams. Those that stick around are depth players. And there are those who will question how someone who earned an award as the SEC’s defensive player of the year wasn’t ‘good enough’ to make the NFL. But college success doesn’t always translate to the pros — and there are dozens of Heisman Award winners who prove that point.
But none of that would have mattered. No argument or stat counted — Sam, in many people’s mind, was going to be drafted or blackballed, solely because of his sexuality.
The 256th player selected in the draft is given the title of Mr. Irrelevant. This year, a player taken seven selections before that may be the most relevant name in the entire draft. But sadly, we’re still in a time when he’s relevant for the wrong reason.
Congratulations to Sam for being the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft. And hopefully we’ll see many more in the coming years. Yes, we’ve come a long way as a society — less so in sporting culture — but we won’t truly have something to celebrate until we get to the point where selecting a gay player is not noteworthy.
Gay, straight, black, white — once we get to a point where players are judged solely by what they do between the lines, rather than what they look like or who they love, then that’s when we’re all winners.
And that’s when we’ll have something truly to celebrate.