Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who Cares If NFL Is Ready For a Gay Player -- GET READY!

Michael Sam is getting ready to become the first
openly gay player in the NFL.
It has been a week since Missouri defensive end and NFL draft hopeful Michael Sam has came out to the world that he is gay.  That means this fall, Sam will most likely become the first openly gay player to play in the NFL.

This entire week has been filled with the question:  Is the NFL ready to welcome a gay player?

My answer?  You better get ready.

I hate when the media or anyone else asks questions like this.  Honestly, what does "ready" mean?  Have we eradicated all homophobic thinking and actions from NFL locker rooms?  No.  And we haven't in pretty much any other line of business either.  Can we promise that all the players in the league have zero issues playing with or against a gay player?  No, but we can't also promise those things in any other line or work either.

That doesn't make those people correct, but it says something about how we think.  It would be great ... and naive ... to think that we live in a society where all workplaces are completely tolerant of all people.  Legally, we are supposed to live in that society.  Reality bites.  Anyone who has followed the NFL the past season and the Miami Dolphins in particular knows that there isn't harmony in every roster.  Sam will hear something from someone at some time.  The NFL is not all the way ready for a gay player.

So what.  Deal with it.

See, change rarely just works its way into our culture unnoticed and without some sort of resistance.  Do we think Major League Baseball was "ready" for a black player in the 1940s?  Or course not.  Anyone who knows about what Jackie Robinson was subjected to during his career knows that MLB wasn't ready.  However, it happened whether everyone was on board or not.  It has been 70 years since Jackie Robinson made his debut and there are always stories coming up about some issue involving a racist act or comment.  I know this is the NFL, but ask Riley Cooper's teammates if everyone is completely on board.

Sam won't be Jackie Robinson in that aspect.  Robinson was the first black player to play in the Major Leagues.  We know that.  Sam will not be the first gay player to play in the NFL.  Several ex-players came out once their careers were over.  Robinson never had to go to the New York Times to announce that he is black.  Plus, back when Robinson played, sports tended to be ahead of society on social issues.  Now, sports tends to be behind society.  Most people know someone openly gay.  Most people work with someone who is openly gay.  If neither of those are true, we like movies, TV shows, music or some form of culture that contains someone who is gay.

My point is that sometimes change comes whether you are ready for it or not and adapting is necessary.  Unlike years past, if NFL players reject Sam like MLB players did with Robinson, there will be a very swift backlash from fans and the media.  While the NFL is king of the hill, rejecting a gay player wouldn't sit well alongside all the safety concerns from parents about letting their kids play football.  The million/billionaire owners already know that shunning a gay player ... or any gay employee ... is unacceptable under any circumstances and shouldn't allow for anything happening to him in their locker room.

Are you ready, football?  Get ready.

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