Michael Sam, a former Missouri defensive end that graduated in December, spoke out about his sexuality Sunday night.
Sam got his Tiger football break in 2010 when Aldon Smith was sidelined with a fibula injury. Over the years, his football career has led him to All-American status, 2013 Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year and a trip to the NFL draft potentially as the first openly gay NFL player.
This is uncharted territory for Sam, MU and the NFL. Sam’s example is a blueprint that other athletes and teams will look to for years to come. He’s setting a public precedent, and for that we commend him — for his bravery, courage and poise in the wake of this media monsoon.
That being said, it’s a landmark moment in the world of sports, but in this age, a gay football player shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the words of Gary Pinkel at Monday’s press conference, “We didn’t want to write the book on this, but here we are.”
And in this media storm, we must remember that this is Sam’s story — not Mizzou’s, not the NFL’s, solely Sam’s. It was Sam’s choice, Sam’s brave decision. Not Missouri’s. And with his choice to make the announcement, Sam opened a door and paved the way for other athletes similar to himself. This isn’t just a defining moment in sports, it’s a landmark moment for the LGBT community, both at MU and nationwide.
No one can deny MU’s inclusive campus culture; there’s even a BuzzFeed about it. MU had its first genderqueer Homecoming king nominee, Josie Herrera, in October. It’s clear that as a community we’re making strides toward acceptance.
We do applaud the effort it takes to foster this kind of campus, but this supportive culture isn’t the reason Sam came out. He came out publicly after he left MU. Yet, no matter how perfect the environment, coming out is still a hard thing to do. We can almost certainly bet that MU’s reputation wasn’t a consideration of Sam’s, and Mizzou shouldn’t benefit so heftily from his personal statement. Responses shouldn’t be, “Way to go, MU!” because honestly, the university had nothing to do with it (aside from keeping it under wraps until Sam was ready to go public).
We’re concerned that support for Sam is turning into an example of MU’s greatness. It’s fantastic that we’re an accepting community, but it’s becoming too much; more about us and less about Sam. Some even took it a step further, making it about themselves and saying they knew but didn’t spill the beans. Well, claps to you for being a decent human being.
Supporting Sam challenges the MU community. Sam’s sexuality forces football fans to be more comfortable with homosexuality. After all, Sam is someone you rooted for on the field when the game got close. He’s part of the Tiger family, and acceptance is key. We are One Mizzou, and now’s the time to show the nation how this rings true.
It’s important, though, to keep in mind that at this point in time with the barrage of news coverage, supporting Mizzou means standing behind the LGBT community. You can’t skip over the part you don’t like and still stand for Sam this Saturday. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Don’t get us wrong, school pride is a fabulous and wonderful thing. We understand that many members of the MU community are doing what they can to be as supportive as possible, but this story is a bigger step forward to the LGBT community than it is for the MU community and spirit.
In the realm of supporting the LGBT community, and diversity as a whole, MU does a pretty darn good job. Just in the past year, MU as an institution passed policy to provide employee benefits for same-sex couples. We have the LGBTQ Resource Center and numerous resources for those looking to get educated, act as an ally or find a place to call home.
On the other hand, we have instances of bigotry and hate — the rhyming game kicker Andrew Baggett faced after missing a key field goal is a prime example. The university could also do better, as highlighted in last week’s MyZou name preference story. Missouri isn’t the greatest state for LGBT rights, but it’s getting there, especially with the advent of the American Civil Liberties Union suits at the state capitol this week.
At least in the sports realm, football is making strides toward equality. In the words of Mizzou Athletics, “If you can play, you can play.”
Michael Sam, you can play.