The wait is over – the NFL will have its first openly gay active player in Michael Sam of Missouri.
Kelley: The courage and confidence this young man possesses are abundant. Two personality traits I admire deeply in individuals and attempt to exude myself each day. Michael Sam defined those two traits in his interview with ESPN on Sunday night, in which he shared his true self with the world with absolute certainty.
“I just want to own my truth,” he said.
This is one topic we can certainly agree on, Mick. In this day and age, when barriers in society are constantly broken down, we must applaud Sam. The tide is turning and Sam has now positioned himself as an inspiration for those worldwide struggling with their sexuality and how to reveal it.
The scrutiny and attention, though, will be unheralded. The NFL Scouting Combine begins next week and his interview will attract as much, if not more, media members than the press conference with Manti Te’o.
My concern in all of this is what will happen behind closed doors, when the cameras are away and it is just teammates and coaches together with no outside distractions. Numerous players, notably Jonathan Vilma, have stated that Sam will encounter problems in the locker room and may not receive as much support as the public perceives he will.
What will be key and what needs to happen in order for this young man to succeed is for him to be drafted into a veteran locker room with established leaders. Immediate prospects include the Patriots or Broncos or Packers.
I look forward to cheering Michael Sam on his tremendous journey he is about to embark on.
Kowaleski: Michael Sam is here to help solve the problem of masculinity.
Our culture’s definition of masculinity is severely limited. Males are mostly limited to a very strict definition of what it is “to be a true man”: they must be the breadwinner in their household, they must be strong (physically and emotionally), principled, virile, confident, stoic, et al. Nearly above all, they are heterosexual. This is what a man is.
Then the SEC Defensive Player of the Year announces that he’s a proudly gay man.
It’s enormously important that Michael Sam is an NFL prospect. There is no sport more indebted to macho culture than football–it’s what the sport’s reputation is based on. It’s fascinating that the sport whose ultra-masculine, almost cartoonishly chauvinist culture was exposed by a bullying scandal a few months ago will be dealing with the first active openly gay athlete in American sports. The significance just wouldn’t be the same in any other sport.
This culture is going to be challenged immediately, as will American perceptions of masculinity. If Sam is successful, those perceptions will be overhauled at a breathtakingly rapid pace. If he is not (which, as a slower undersized defensive end, is very possible), he will at least serve as the inspiration for the first gay superstar to play in a Big Four sport.
If we start to redefine the values of American football (the most masculine of sports) and expand our criteria for what makes a man a man, we approach the next step in humanity’s social evolution. By making our definition of masculinity more flexible, America (still traditionally white male-dominated with patriarchal values) will start to question what else it values.
This is a long process, but it’s starting right now with one brave man.
Is LeBron James one of the top four players of all-time?
Kelley: Yes, yes and yes. He could end his career now and still arguably be on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA GOAT.
Years ago, LeBron would deflect this question. He would say his legacy was not a topic that crossed his mind. But now, the four-time MVP is beginning to discuss his building legacy as he nears the age of 30.
No player has ever faced more scrutiny for this long. From his high school days to now, LeBron is constantly under examination in this “What have you done for me lately?” society we now find ourselves in.
The Heat seemed primed to make their fourth NBA Finals trip in as many season and none of that would have been imaginable without the MVP. His game winning fadeaway three-pointer as time expired on Wednesday night was a perfect example of how far he has come. The fastest to 20,000 points and beholder of two championship rings and two Finals MVP awards, LeBron is still well in his prime and has much more to accomplish, especially if he surrounds himself with talent.
Kowaleski: Why is this even a question? Of course he is. Jordan, LeBron, Bird, Bob Cousy. That’s basketball’s Mount Rushmore, in that order.
Everyone will see when LeBron carries the Heat to two more championships in a row. That’s all I really have to say on the matter.