In this recent week, former Missouri and current NFL draft prospect Michael Sam disclosed in an interview with the New York Times that he was, "a football player and... gay."
In Sam's career as a Missouri Tiger, the defensive end accumulated 123 tackles, 21 sacks, six forced fumbles, and intercepted two passes. In his senior year, Sam recorded 11-1/2 sacks which tied the Missouri single-season record. He was named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Week in two consecutive weeks. Post-season accolades include being named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-SEC, a consensus All-American, and was a semi-finalist for the Chuck Bednarik, Hendricks, and Lombardi Awards.
Sam graduated from Missouri with a degree in parks, recreation, and tourism.
Missouri finished the season with a 11-1 record and a 7-1 record in conference play. Missouri lost to Auburn in the SEC Title Game, but followed it up with a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. Michael Sam provided the key play that sealed the win for the Tigers with a sack that resulted in a fumble where teammate Shane Ray picked the ball up and ran 73 yards for a touchdown.
As Jon Stewart said in his commentary, "It's almost like sexual orientation has no affect on physical abilities."
Sports Illustrated reported that Sam's coming out might cause teams to place Sam lower on their draft boards or not even draft him at all. Some league members have said that having an openly gay player on the team would be a distraction.
Funny, that was the same word that was said as recently as 2010 during the debate on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).
Marine Corps Commandant General James F. Amos in December 2010 said that, "I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda (National Naval Medical Center) with no legs be the result of any type of distraction."
Staff Sergeant Eric Alva was one of those Marines who lost a leg during the first days of the Iraq War in 2003. Alva said the words the Commandant used, "spit on me, my Purple Heart, and my 13 years of service."
In his July 2008 testimony before a House Armed Services Committee, Sergeant Alva testified that people in his unit knew that he was gay and that it had no impact on unit cohesion.
After DADT repeal took place, the Palm Center released a report on the impact of the policy one year later. Their findings:
“The repeal of DADT has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”
If the military can allow openly gay people into their ranks, then I think the major North American sport leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) can follow suit.
There are already openly gay persons playing sports. As I recall during the 2011 Women's World Cup, Abby Wambach scored a goal on a header from Megan Rapinoe in the semi-final against Brazil in stoppage time that sent the game to extra time. Rapinoe converted a kick during the penalty shootout to send the US to the final where they lost to Japan.
Abby Wambach married Sarah Huffman, a soccer player, in Hawaii. Megan Rapinoe revealed in a 2012 interview with Out Magazine published prior to the London Summer Olympics that she is gay and at the time dating an Australian soccer player.
The two players involved in a critical goal for Team USA during the 2011 World Cup are out about their sexual orientation.
Prior to being drafted by the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner acknowledged that she was gay. Griner played college basketball at Baylor University in Waco, TX. Baylor is not exactly the bastion of progressive policies, but minds are slowly changing.
A historical example of gay athletes playing on sports teams was Jerry Smith, David Kopay, and Ray McDonald playing on the Washington Redskins in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Redskins, who did not field a fully integrated team until 1962 due to pressure from the Kennedy administration. The coach of the 1969 team was Vince Lombardi (yes, THAT Vince Lombardi) who had a gay brother and did not tolerate anti-gay language. While coach of the Packers, Lombardi made it known that racial bigotry would not be accepted and made it known that the only colors that matter were the team's colors of green and gold.
But let's return to the phrase "distraction" that I alluded to in the beginning. Dale Hansen and Jon Stewart pointed our several more serious distractions than as Hansen put it "a man loving another man? Well, you've gone too far!"
In Hansen's commentary he alluded that black players were called that same term. It would be a distraction if we allowed them to play our sports.
That's what they said of Jackie Robinson before starting for the Brooklyn Dodgers on 15 April 1947.
Robinson was such a distraction in his first season that he was named Rookie of the Year, the Dodgers finished first in the National League, and played in the 1947 World Series. In the ten seasons that Robinson was a member of the Dodgers, he was such a distraction that the team finished above .500 every season. Their worst season during this era was in 1948 when the team finished in third with a 84-70 record. The Dodgers during the Robinson era played in the World Series 6 times, all against the Yankees. They won one series against the Yankees, coming in the 1955 series winning it in 7 games.
Robinson was such a distraction that he batted .311 with 1,518 hits, hit 137 home runs along with 734 RBIs, and stole 197 bases. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 on the first ballot of eligibility.
Major League Baseball honored this distraction by retiring his number league wide in 1997. With the recent retirement of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, no baseball player will have the choice of the number 42 ever again.
Those using the "distraction" excuse: they said those same things up until four years ago when arguing in keeping DADT in place and they said the same thing about keeping players like Robinson out of baseball.
Despite the voices from a few negative persons, the support of Sam have been outstanding.
Fans of the Missouri Tigers made this tribute to Sam in the snow at the football stadium after he made his announcement.
It made Rachel Maddow's "Best New Thing In The World."
Now that I think about it, Sam will be a distraction.
To the other team's offense.