I credit this “Edgewise” to a Facebook post by a friend, fellow writer, and gay pro wrestler who shall remain nameless. He asserted that the wrong question is being asked concerning Michael Sam, the former Missouri Tigers defensive end and 2014 NFL draft entrant, who has revealed–before the May NFL draft picks– that he is gay.
The question to be posed, wrote my friend, is not, “Is the NFL ready to embrace an openly gay player?” but rather, “Does Michael Sam have what it takes and is he willing to take on what will be required of the first openly gay player in the NFL?”
In other words, is Sam ready to be the NFL’s Jackie Robinson, to soldier on with the same poise and equanimity through the inevitable abuse that he will incur from some quarters? Because the answer to the NFL’s readiness is likely “No.” And might never be “Yes,” but that is irrelevant. It is unlikely that pro baseball would never have been ‘ready’ to admit blacks nor much of the American citizenry ‘ready’ for mixed-race marriages unless Branch Rickey had drafted Robinson or Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving taken Loving vs. Virginia to the Supreme Court. Left to “readiness,” we would still have Negro Leagues and Jim Crow.
Someone must take the first step. Someone with strength and commitment above and beyond that required of others to play their sport or pursue a normal life. It’s patently obvious that there have been gay players in the NFL judging by former members Esera Tuaolo, David Kopay, and Roy Simmons, who came out and spoke up only after leaving the league.
On June 12, 2007, the 40th anniversary of Loving vs. Virgina, Mildred Loving commented, “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.” In the same way, any teacher, musician, athlete ought to have the chance to use his or her talents in any career for which they are qualified without fear of discrimination.
Reporter Dale Hansen of Dallas station WFAA spoke eloquently for Sam’s inclusion. Come May, will we find the NFL big enough to fill Branch Rickey’s shoes as Sam accepts Jackie’s Robinson’s legacy?