Michael Sam is gay.
How do you feel about that?
If you’re struggling with it, pretend it had been Roy Williams, Teddy Lehman, Rufus Alexander, Curtis Lofton or Frank Alexander — Hey, whatever happened to OU’s great tradition of dominant defenders? But I digress — who came out of the sports world’s closet Sunday.
Each of them earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, just as Sam earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors this past season at Missouri.
So think about it that way, if it helps bring this story home any more easily.
What’s amazing is how much we seem to have learned even as the story was barely a day old on Monday.
We’ve learned a collection of NFL executives, honest in their anonymity, have told Sports Illustrated that, you bet, this is going to hurt Sam’s draft status.
Thought of as a third- or fourth-round choice prior to Sunday, some believe he may not be drafted at all.
My favorite line?
SI quoted an NFL assistant coach as saying Sam’s announcement that he’s gay was “not a smart move.”
Gee, who knew it was so extraordinarily easy to walk in another man’s shoes?
Or that draft status should supersede honesty with yourself and the world?
We’ve learned that when Sam came out to his Missouri teammates, many of them knew already and, if reports are true, accepted him universally. At the very least, they accepted him well enough not to let the rest of the world in on it until Sam was ready to do it himself.
We’ve learned that Gary Pinkel, Sam’s college coach, and first lady Michelle Obama have come out in support of Sam’s coming out. And we’ve learned that New York Giant co-owner Steve Tisch, as reported NJ.com, believes Sam to be a “gifted athlete and a courageous man,” yet former Jets and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards believes Sam “would bring baggage.”
So we’ve learned all kinds of things. But you want to know what we’ve really learned?
It’s a thunderclap.
For those wishing Sam would have kept his mouth shut and simply gone about his business because we’re already past it all as a culture, well, the NFL assistant and the GMs who believe his draft stock has dropped, and Herm Edwards, too, are proof of the need for just such an announcement.
Because you know how society rightfully and righteously gets beyond this and other issues, like breaking baseball’s color barrier and the African American domination of the NBA and the brashness of a then-young boxer named Cassius Clay or the end of Canadian domination of the National Hockey League in a post Cold War world or getting comfortable with the idea of baseball being Latin America’s, more than America’s, pastime?
You get past it by dealing with it. You get beyond it by having it served up to you day after day after day in a way you simply can’t avoid.
· Jackie Robinson will start at first base for the Dodgers today.
· Gee, there’s something different about Nick Collison and every other member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
· “He’s too ugly to be the world’s champ. The world’s champ should be pretty like me” — Clay, before he became Muhammad Ali, on Sonny Liston before their first fight.
· With the first two picks in the 1992 NHL draft, Tampa Bay takes Roman Hamrlik of the Czech Republic and Ottawa has chosen Alexei Yashin of Russia.
· Alex Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Yadier Molina, Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano and we’re barely getting started.
You get past it not by running from it, but by wading into the deep end until, all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel so deep any more or you just learn to swim in your new surroundings.
The other thing we should have learned, or re-learned or have been reminded of in a very real way in a nation in which the middle class dwindles a little bit more every day, is there are still some far more important things than money.
I promise you, there are dozens of athletes who believe staying in school and having a fuller and richer college experience would, in retrospect, have been worth some forfeited riches. There may even be dozens who believe they might have held on to the money they did make if they’d stayed in school a little longer.
Also, I think I can promise you, even if he’s not drafted, never plays in the NFL and ultimately only serves to prove the backwardness of still-large segments of society, Michael Sam will never regret coming out to the world.
If he doesn’t get us to the other side on this issue, then others he will have inspired will.
It’s a great story.
Even if it ends up only being about a young man willing to be himself, it’s still a great story.
If you’re not quite ready for it, don’t fret. You will be soon.
Follow me @clayhorning
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