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Editorial: A step forward for football

At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, this defensive is a first-team All-American pick and a Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year for the University of Missouri. A likely pick in as early as the third round of the NFL draft, Michael Sam did something this week that no NFL player has done. “I am an openly, proud gay man,” he announced in an interview for ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” Sam understood that his announcement was unprecedented: “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be. … I want to be a football player in the NFL,” he said.

While many Americans have taken to social media to laud Sam for his courage, the NFL community did not offer the same response. Just after Sam’s announcement, Sports Illustrated reported that NFL executives and coaches “project a significant drop in Sam’s draft stock.” Sam is the same man he was on Saturday, before he publicly came out of the closet. He possesses the same passion for the game and the same talents — an “SEC-best 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles,” as Sports Illustrated reported — to succeed in the NFL. The only thing that has changed is that Sam publicly revealed he is a gay man, a fact all his Mizzou teammates had known for a year. Sam’s coming out and his likely career consequences reveal a great deal about the intricate connection between athletics and notions of masculinity in American culture.

Some strides have already been made in American culture to overturn longstanding stereotypes connecting athleticism and masculinity with heterosexuality. This summer, Jason Collins became “the first openly gay, professional male athlete playing in a major sport,” the Huffington Post reported last year. Photos of Collins marching for gay rights, wearing a shirt with the phrase #betrue in rainbow letters, became a symbol of hope that future athletes would follow his example. Nonetheless, the ugly reality is that the predominant culture continues to associate being gay with more feminine qualities that have no space in an athletic culture based on machismo, prowess and strength.

Some ex-NFL players have come out of the closet. Two former players, Wade Davis and Esera Tuaolo, helped launch SportsCenter writer Peter King’s new website, Monday Morning Quarterback, by writing letters to their younger selves “sharing what they experienced at various life stages and what they wished they had known along the way,” as the site described. In these testimonies, Davis and Tuaolo touched upon the feelings of fear, shame and lack of belonging they experienced as gay athletes. But when drafted, Sam will be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

The roots of the issue are deeply connected to American culture. Despite all the progress achieved on LGBT rights in the past decade, to be a gay professional athlete continues to be taboo. It will take time to overturn these stereotypes, but brave individuals like Michael Sam are helping in the cause to make being gay legitimate and accepted regardless of profession. Hopefully, he will not be the last gay athlete to open up about his sexual orientation and work toward spearheading this important cultural change.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to


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