After making waves a few months ago as the first openly gay NFL player, defensive end Michael Sam was cut on Saturday by the St. Louis Rams. It’s an unfortunate roadblock to what was an amazing story. Fortunately, the decision looks to be purely a football decision, of all the NFL coaches, one would be hard-pressed to find a nicer guy than Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Sam was a seventh round pick, which, for those uninitiated, is kind of like being the last pick on the playground, so making the team was a stretch, particularly for a rookie.
It’s sad that a situation like Sam’s is actually newsworthy, to the point that American sports network ESPN was reporting on the Rams shower situation. That’s right, a major sports network really did send a reporter to Rams training camp to investigate the locker room hygiene routine of an openly gay player.
Undoubtedly, there have been gay football players before, and even with Sam getting cut there will be gay football players in the NFL this season; however, it would have been nice to get yet another major cultural milestone out of the way by having an openly gay player in the league. Sam may still catch on with another team, and he could even make his way up here to play in the CFL, but as someone who lives sports, but hates the culture that sometimes surrounds it, I can’t help but pull for Sam.
As I have mentioned before, these tired, out-of-date male stereotypes are just as harmful as their female equivalents. Until we begin to unravel theses gender issues from our culture, we will continue to live in a world where a female CEO or a gay football player is a big deal. The good news is that most of the qualities we associate with sports don’t need to change. Sports can still represent leadership, teamwork, power, strength, speed, and character without having to exclude anyone. The idea that there is room for everyone in the sporting world doesn’t diminish these qualities, it strengthens them by showing how universal they are.
I hope one day my daughters won’t even have to think twice about whether or not they can like the colour pink and still be interested in science, or love princesses yet still want to play football. I often think that in trying to solve some of these issues of injustice or inequality, we end up limiting choices rather than expanding them. The issue isn’t so much that Sam is gay, it’s that there is a misconception that being gay means you can’t also be mentally tough, physically strong, and possess the kind of character that would make you go through a wall for your teammate. There is no need for any accommodation for these changes other than in our own heads.
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