Kudos to University of Missouri’s defensive football star and prospective second- or third-round National Football League draft pick Michael Sam for his bravery, boldness and basic human right to publicly declare himself as openly gay, which scares the you-know-what out of most of the NFL’s hierarchy and a sizeable segment of insecure players.
Of course, there are too many frightened mega-rich NFL owners who are spineless with fear of drafting a publicly known gay athlete because of team issues based on (always) financial, social or religious conservatism, and, supported by some of the talented, but fearful and insecure players, and they will band together to keep gay athletes out of their locker rooms.
Actually, what those owners and players are doing is illegal according to the Constitution – they’re denying those athletes their inalienable rights of freedom.
It will be interesting to watch how the NFL owners manipulate their prejudices at the draft and where Sam will end up. Hopefully one of the few NFL teams who want good, team-oriented grid talent will draft him high and make him a pro football equal.
Football is definitely not the only pro sport with the reluctance, and guts, to break the “draft the openly gay player barrier,” because most major pro sports have their issues on the subject and can’t act on making history by accepting gay players and letting them compete as themselves.
Sam’s willingness to be a pioneer in football is a brave move and will pay off for him, and the gay community, in the long run.
It’s going to be a watershed moment for the NFL, as it was for Major League Baseball, when Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier as the first black pro player in the Major Leagues and, when referring to being brave, bold and a seeker of basic human rights, you are describing Robinson, who was scorned into succeeding on, and off, the field.
It was also way more dangerous for Robinson at that time in American history than it will be for a gay man or woman athlete now, because many in the past, segments of the United States were prejudice against people of color and there were dangers involved then, as there are now.
Like the knowledgeable, award-winning San Francisco Chronicle sports writer Bruce Jenkins so poignantly stated in his column on this subject last week, it was the person who brought Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball and into the Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse, Branch Rickey.
Jenkins asks the question of who will be the NFL’s Branch Rickey?
It’s the perfect question at the perfect time, with Sam testing the NFL waters through the draft as a proud gay man and athlete ready and eager to begin his pro grid career.
Before Sam declared being gay, veteran pro basketball player Jason Collins came out publicly as gay with plenty of time before the current NBA season began to be signed by a team, but it shamefully didn’t happen.
The main reason cited by most of the teams for not signing him was that he was at the end of his career and on the verge of retirement and that he might not hold up as a backup center for a team in need of one and it would be better served going young.
But as the season swings into the stretch run after Sunday’s NBA all-star game, and with the trading deadline near, there are a lot of teams lacking in decent backup centers, who can hold their own and be productive, which Collins has proven and remained in shape to help a team in the playoffs chase.
One of those teams is the Golden State Warriors, who don’t have a reliable third-string center behind starter Andrew Bogut and veteran backup Jermaine O’Neal, and it cost them when both big men were briefly sidelined with injuries, as was power forward David Lee.
I feel that if the Warriors showed the nerve, fortitude and foresight to sign Collins as the third-string center until season-long injured Festus Ezeli, who hopefully returns before the end of the season, they would have won at least two games they lost because of a lack of big-man presence in the paint.
Collins had more than decent career numbers in all playing categories, along with experience, intelligence and toughness, and he wouldn’t be needed for too many minutes each game. And when someone is injured, he can more than adequately fill the void.
I keep speaking in the now because the Warriors, who should have and could have made him a contributing member of the team and a difference maker between a few wins and losses, can still sign him and have some proven insurance for the playoff push.
Then, when Ezeli comes back hopefully before the season’s end, Golden State could be on a positive roll of momentum from stability in the all-important paint.
It’s not too late to sign Collins and let him receive the distinction and honor of being the first openly gay athlete in one of America’s major team sports, because he is already that brave pioneer, who no team had the nerve or will to put him on their roster.
The Warriors should be that team because the Bay Area is a place of tolerance and acceptance for people of all nationalities, religions and sexual preferences, where an openly gay pro athlete would be welcomed and appreciated and, in Collins’ favor, he already has a Bay Area history and following, having been a star cager and student at Stanford.
I’m hoping the Warriors will be bold, followed by NFL teams who want to have good and productive players bring them success – maybe the San Francisco 49ers?
Whether Collins or Sam or both become pioneers of athletes’ rights in their sports, or not, the time for honesty and justice are here and it’s going to happen soon.