Micah Rice: Sam story is still big because it is a first

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

I can't wait for the day when Michael Sam wouldn't be a big story.

I can't wait for when the discussion only involves his football ability. His homosexuality would be as relevant as whether the quarterback prefers blondes or brunettes.

We're not there yet. But it's great that Sam has gone public with his sexuality because it brings us closer to that day.

Assuming Sam is drafted and makes an NFL team, he would be the first openly gay player on an active roster in major American professional sports.

Anyone doing anything for the first time is going to attract attention, and there has been plenty of that since Sam's sexuality went national one week ago.

But that hasn't stopped some people from wishing it wasn't such a big deal. They include those who think someone's personal life shouldn't matter.

They also include those who just wish the story would go away.

They feign indifference, yet on any story about Sam they're spending a lot of time writing comments about how little they care.

It's a passive bigotry that arises because Sam makes them uncomfortable.

Stereotypes persist because they simplify a complex world, where each person has unique behaviors, thoughts and feelings. There's comfort in assuming how people are without getting to know them.

Sam defies the major stereotypes about gay men.

Gay men are frail and feminine. They could never succeed in a sport as physical as football.

Sam was the defensive co-player of the year in the SEC, the best and most physical conference in college football. While the Missouri defensive end isn't a dominating force ala South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, he still has a highlight reel full of sacks and big hits.

A gay player would be a distraction in the locker room, especially in the showers.

That wasn't a problem at Missouri, where Sam revealed his sexuality to teammates before a season that saw the Tigers finish 12-2 and No. 8 in the BCS rankings. Besides, knowingly or not, everyone who belongs to an athletic club has probably showered in a presence of a gay person.

Sam is an opportunist trying to promote the gay lifestyle.

That's not only inaccurate but would also be financially unwise, considering his mid- to late-round draft prospects. If he were an opportunist, he would have come out publicly at the same time he told his Missouri teammates. Being the first openly gay player in major college football would have given him a big spotlight, if he wanted it. Rather, Sam came out because nobody should have to hide who they are because of a don't-ask-don't-tell status quo.

Someday, we won't be having this conversation. Someday, we'll look at an openly gay athlete and simply ask "can he play?"

As a trailblazer, Sam won't be that guy. But the next athlete to follow his path will raise fewer eyebrows, answer fewer questions and receive less attention for his sexuality. And so on....

So let's accept Sam for who he is. And if mixing sports and sexuality makes you uncomfortable, that's even more reason to cheer Sam.

Because, for the next guy, it won't be nearly as big of a story.