Hoping that Michael Sam will change the NFL’s culture

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Michael Sam coming out should not be headline news. But, for today at least, it needs to be.

If Calvin Johnson told Michael Silver tomorrow that he is into blonde girls, no one would care (except for blonde girls). If Russell Wilson had come out two years ago and said he preferred to date taller women, no one would’ve debated how that diminished his draft stock.

And such should be the case with Sam’s announcement. No one should care what Michael Sam’s sexual orientation is. But, unfortunately, we don’t appear to quite be there yet.

This isn’t at all meant to diminish the courage it must have taken to go on television and make such a declaration, especially given the fact that while it might not hurt his draft stock come May, it certainly won’t help it.

I also don’t want this at all to sound as though I stand in solidarity with the various media voices who seem to be expressing the sentiment that no one cares if Sam is gay or not and that we should stop trying to make this into more of a story than it is. It’s implied that being openly homophobic in today’s society is a poor choice, so the next most acceptable thing for such a person to do is to the play the “this is just the media unfairly trying to force gay culture on everyone else” card — thinly veiling what they really are trying to say.

Michael Sam’s announcement is absolutely headline material, both for how much courage and self-assurance it took to make it and simply for the fact that his situation is unprecedented in the NFL. But one day, we’ll reach a point where something like this is considered as irrelevant as what a certain player’s favorite ice cream flavor is.

In one way or another, Sam is likely to receive some blowback. There are other narratives in place that will allow NFL owners and GMs to undervalue the former SEC defensive player of the year. They can point to the fact that he’s undersized, or that nine of his sacks last season came against just three teams — one of which was Florida, whose players proved better at blocking each other than the defensive lineman. No one will have to come out and explicitly say, “We as an organization don’t feel comfortable drafting an openly gay football player.”

And from a business standpoint, that is the smart thing to do. The NFL makes an absurd amount of money each year and has an absurdly loyal fan base. While it may be a stereotype, much of that fan base seems to still live in 1950s ‘Merica and probably secretly celebrates when players such as Riley Cooper and Chris Culliver echo their own intolerant sentiments. If drafting an openly gay player would even potentially carry risks of alienating you from your source of revenue, why would you do it?

Yet, in all likelihood, Sam will get drafted. And that is going to be huge for other players to see, as they’ll realize embracing their sexuality won’t completely ruin their chance at achieving a career in the NFL. Then, maybe, a second openly gay player will get drafted. And a third. And a fourth.

Then and only then will we not have to care about a football player’s sexuality. We won’t have to be bothered by such trivial headlines, and instead can go back to complaining about how many times we see the word “Tebow” on SportsCenter.

That’s going to be a great day, and Michael Sam may have just brought us one step closer to it. For that, he deserves to have his name in the headlines.

Contact Connor at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ctbyrne91.