Last month, a boy named Michael Morones was found hanging in his room after reportedly being called gay by his peers. Fortunately, he survived the suicide attempt, but he may have permanent brain damage from the incident. I don’t know if Michael Morones is gay or not, and he may not either - he is 11 years old.
Less than a month later, another Michael is making headlines for announcing that he is gay.
Sunday, in separate interviews with ESPN and the New York Times, NFL draft prospect Michael Sam told the world that he is a “proud gay man.” Quickly, sports and news shows alike called former NFL players and coaches to discuss whether or not the NFL is ready for an openly gay player.
The aforementioned NFL experts began to talk about how Sam would be drafted because of his playing ability and accomplishments on the field regardless of his sexuality.
The NFL hopeful is the current SEC co-defensive player of the year and notched 11.5 sacks last season. He was the defensive anchor of a Missouri Tiger football team that stunned the college football world by beating SEC powers Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M, finished the regular season 11-1 and earned the school its first SEC Championship Game appearance.
Oklahoma State fans may remember him as the player who cost OSU a win in the Cotton Bowl when he caused a Clint Chelf fumble that was returned for a touchdown by fellow defensive end Shane Ray late in the fourth quarter.
Sam, a projected third or fourth round pick by most sports media outlets, is not the first professional athlete from the major to announce he is gay. Last year former NBA player and roster hopeful Jason Collins came out. However, since Collins has yet to be signed by a team since his announcement, Sam is on track to be the first openly gay, active athlete in a major sport.
I don’t know if this announcement will affect Sam’s draft stock. I could see it going down because, owners, especially those with a large fan base in the South, may decide not to draft Sam in an effort to keep their fan base. However, it could also go higher. I think teams that live in places that have a more accepting fan base may move up to draft the kid. Taking a stand to draft a gay athlete may help sign players who are secretly gay or come out in the future. A team like Seattle or New England would be eager to draft Sam and would welcome his ability.
I do know that the NFL is a business, and NFL owners are stubborn. For proof of this, look at NFL contracts compared to Major League Baseball and the NBA. The NFL front office will most certainly use Michael Sam as a badge of equality and tolerance. For a league that thrives on diversity and opening doors to new markets (looking at you London), a chance to be the first major sport to have a gay athlete on the field could equate to more viewers and sponsors.
What if that wasn’t the case though?
What if nobody cared that Michael Sam is gay?
What if, upon hearing this, the New York Times and ESPN passed on the interview because as a society we no longer cared about somebody’s sexuality?
What if Michael Morones grew up in a world where Michael Sam was one of many gay athletes?
A world where kids are taught to celebrate the differences of their peers rather than criticize them?
A world where people didn’t think twice about hearing whether someone is gay or straight.
Where gay role models that break stereotypical barriers like Michael Sam, are plentiful?
Better yet, what if Michael Morones’ bullies grew up in that world?