So in 2014, the first openly gay football player was drafted by the Rams. Immediately the rest of the football world went about proving that “you should be judged by what you do and not who you are” by comparing him to Jackie Robinson, showering him with media attention, releasing a statement from the White House (see the quote above), and offering him dozens of endorsement deals.
For a seventh-round pick who, according to his coach, may not even make his team.
I don’t get it.
Without even trying to approach the debate of this draft choice being a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, I think I can say with confidence that making a big deal about it is, objectively, bad. If the goal here really is to prove that we should judge people based on “what [they] do,” shouldn’t we wait to see the impact Sam has before making a big deal about him? If we don’t want to judge football players based on “who [they] are,” why treat Sam any differently than any other player drafted in the seventh (and final) round who may not make his team?
Morgan Freeman once famously said that the best way to end racism was to “stop talking about it.” The same principle applies here. Want to be sure there’s no stigma against gay football players? Great. Stop talking about it. Wait to see if his performance on the field warrants this excitement.
It was, after all, it was the unearned media attention and blind love from a few that led to Tim Tebow’s being so viscerally hated by everyone else. Not to mention his unceremonious exit from the league after just a few seasons. Inviting in the distraction of having a media darling just wasn’t worth it to any GMs who might have been interested in acquiring a mediocre player.
And Tebow was a first-round pick. A foolish first-round pick, granted, but he at least was drafted by a coach who saw Tebow as his team’s future.
That seems so long ago now. Tebow’s career was short, but what it lacked in length it more than made up for in dumb rants and stupid arguments. And no one should want to experience that again. Because every player, gay or straight, assertively Christian, passively Satanist, or confusingly Scientologist deserves to succeed, fail, or coast along on his own merits.
Michael Sam is the first openly gay football player to be drafted. He’s also a seventh round pick just hoping to make his team and get some playing time.
And it’s in everyone’s best interest to focus on the second of those two statements, rather than the first.