In addition to the great news out of Arkansas and Idaho recently, we got to witness a historic moment in the NFL last Saturday when Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the league.
Seeing an openly gay man participate at the sport’s highest level is tremendously moving to me. Despite the massive social impact Sam will have on the league, fans, and many generations of football players to come, I worry that being THE first openly gay player will hurt his career.
He already has so much hype around him with interviews, social media, and now a documentary on the Oprah Winfrey Network, all without even having played his first professional game. The expectations are so high for him to say the “right thing” and act a certain way. And people are already dissecting every little thing that he does. (His kiss with his boyfriend on national tv seemed to make just as much news as him getting drafted.)
Obviously, it’s a big deal.
He’s the face of a new generation of player and breaking a barrier that has long been thought of as taboo. I can only imagine the difficulties he will have to face in the locker room, on the field, and in the spotlight.
Granted, the pressure and scrutiny comes with the territory when you’re a professional athlete making more in one year than many will make in lifetime. But I don’t want to contribute to his already daunting task by pressuring him to be a “gay rights icon” and having him try to fulfill our expectations of how he should carry himself.
That will only prevent him from succeeding.
So I say we applaud him, encourage him, and cheer him on. But most of all, we let him make his own way and concentrate on being the great football player he wants to be.
He has given so much by living an open and honest life and encouraging others to do the same. We owe it to him to withhold our judgment and let him do what him came to do in the NFL.