Probably. Hopefully. Either way, in my humble opinion, it’s time.
On Sunday, Michael Sam, an All-American defensive end from the University of Missouri and current NFL Draft prospect, announced to the world through an interview with ESPN’s Chris Connelly that he is an openly gay man. He says he came out to his teammates last August. He and his team proceeded to win the SEC East, going on to defeat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl in January. In that game, Sam had a key sack and forced fumble with 55 seconds left that clinched the game for the Tigers. The Tigers finished the season 12-2, ranked 5th in both the AP and USA Today Polls.
As an NFL prospect, Sam seems like a no-brainer. A consensus All-American with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013? Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good player. However, scouts don’t think that Sam is big enough to be worthy of a high round selection. He isn’t listed as a top 10 defensive end by ESPN’s Mel Kiper, and the website NFL Draft Scout lists him as the 11th best defensive end in the draft and a grade of a 3rd-4th round pick. In fact, his teammate and fellow defensive end Kony Ealy is a much more highly regarded prospect, with Scouts Inc. ranking him 26th overall in the draft class.
Now, out as potentially the first openly gay player in the NFL, there are questions as to how that status will affect Sam’s draft stock. Hopefully it won’t. Hopefully he performs well in the upcoming draft combine, his pro day, and in team interviews, and he’s drafted right where he deserves to be, makes his team out of camp and plays on Sundays this fall. Others seem to think that’s less likely now. I’m hopeful they’re wrong.
Last year, NBA veteran Jason Collins came out. Unfortunately, the season had ended and Collins was not signed by any team to play this year. As of right now, the first and only openly gay player in a top North American sports league is Robbie Rogers, striker for the Los Angeles Galaxy, who came out last February while playing in England, promptly retired, and then came back to the sport a few months later in the MLS. As a lover of soccer I don’t want to bag on the MLS, but it could still be said that there have been no openly gay active players in a major American professional sports league. Michael Sam could be the first. But he doesn’t have to be.
Baseball season is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp this week. Why shouldn’t a MLB player be first? I don’t think Michael Sam would mind. Come March 30th when the Padres play the Dodgers on opening night, there will be 750 players on major league active rosters. If only 2% of them are gay or bisexual, something I would consider a conservative guess, that means that 15 active players will be playing this year in the closet.
Yes, there are a lot of reasonable reasons to keep that information private, and every closeted person deserves the opportunity to come out when they are comfortable. The question I’d like to ask each of them is “why not now?” My hope for this spring is that as teams gather all together for the first time since the 2013 season ended, at least one player will have the courage to stand in front of his teammates, tell them his truth, and then return to the business of winning baseball games.
Maybe it will be a member of the Padres. You never know. Why not?
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