DRAFTED: Powerful words propel Sam to center but leave achievements overshadowed

Sports Commentary 

“I’m Michael Sam, I’m a football player, and I’m gay.”

Those powerful words propelled Michael Alan Sam Jr., a former defensive end for the University of Missouri, to national headlines early February when he came out to the world about his sexuality.

Fast forward to the present, and Sam is once again in the headlines, this time for making history as the first openly-gay professional football player to be drafted into the National Football League (NFL) as the 249th overall pick.What is interesting about the media’s role in the portrayal of Sam is that a lot of the coverage, both positive and negative, has been largely focused on Sam’s sexual orientation.

Although significant, the fact that Sam is gay should not be the focus of the story; rather, the story should focus on his merits, talents and work ethic which have enabled him to achieve.Lost amid various media reports is the story of the driven young man who never felt that his sexuality should ever be a deterrent from him achieving his dreams.

The seventh of eight children born to JoAnn and Michael Sam Sr., Sam persevered through a chaotic childhood to play college football for Missouri.Although equality is a concept, it is not a reality. Sam’s story is not about football but about the fight for equality, not only in the world of sports but in all aspects of life. It should not be debated whether Sam’s merits were good enough for him to deserve a place on the Ram’s roster, because he already is on it.

“The definition of masculinity shifted, whether consciously or not, because during the hyper-masculine NFL draft, a man kissed another man on national television,” said Wade Davis, a former NFL player who is the executive director of You Can Play Project, an advocacy group aimed at ousting homophobia from sports.

The world is split into minorities in a cultural, racial and social sense. The expectations and norms that come with succeeding as a minority do not always empower and sometimes limit. By taking the initiative to step out of comfort zones, speak out and emerge from the shadows people such as Sam help others to become more accepting and break down the barriers of the status quo.

High school students also face the same, if not greater amount of pressure from peers and others to conform and fit into social norms in everyday life.

However, as seen with Sam, it is evident that we should not be afraid to share our feelings and real emotions. Perhaps one day sexual orientation will not even be mentioned or covered on such a large scale because it will  not be a topic of interest anymore.

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