It’s time to support gay athletes

February 12, 2014 

Michael Sam, an All-America defensive lineman at Missouri and the Associated Press’ Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, said Sunday he’s gay in interviews with The New York Times and ESPN. Sam, a projected early-round NFL draft pick, will be the first openly gay player in the NFL, assuming he is drafted this spring.

Sam’s announcement is courageous for a number of reasons. First of all, coming out is difficult for almost anyone, football player or not. While homosexuality has become more socially acceptable, it’s not easy to come out, for fear of what family and friends might think.

Secondly, Sam is indeed a football player, and football culture isn’t particularly forward-thinking. Homophobia is prevalent in a sport in which men are taught at a young age to be macho and tough.

The timing of his announcement may potentially hurt his draft stock. General managers and coaches strive for a cohesive locker room, and the added distraction of an openly gay man, and the potential rift it could create in a locker room, may cause teams to pass on him in the draft. That is truly a shame.

Some people in the NFL and in this country aren’t ready for an openly gay player. Tough luck. Not too long ago, people weren’t ready for blacks and whites to attend school together. Discomfort is not an excuse for bigotry, and ignorance is not an excuse for intolerance.

Looking back at it now, segregation seems ridiculous. Racist laws were perpetuated because people didn’t want their way of life threatened.

Nevertheless, the country pushed forward with civil rights legislation because we knew, deep down, that it was the right thing to do.

Yes, it was a change, and maybe it was uncomfortable, but it was right.

Now we have a black president. Just as segregation seems ridiculous to my generation, gay-bashing and homophobia will seem ridiculous 50 years from now.

I would really hope, if an athlete at Gig Harbor or Peninsula high schools came out, that their teammates would embrace and support them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream, that one day, people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

That should apply here, too. Sam should not be judged by his sexual orientation, but rather by the type of man he is.

The ugliest, most despicable moments in human history have come as a result of hatred and intolerance. However, despite all the ugliness in the world, there is good, too.

There is love.

This country moved beyond slavery and segregation because it was the right thing to do. We can move past this, too.

Instead of intolerance, let’s fight for understanding. Instead of knocking each other down, let’s show some compassion.

Besides, if the guy can help a team win football games, does it really matter what his sexual orientation is?

Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at jon.manley@gateline.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.

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