The Michael Sam Story

Michael Sam is a young man from Galveston Texas, and can be described using one word: brave. Michael has played football his whole life. He was a well-developed player in high school, which led many colleges to offer him scholarships to come play for their respective teams. In 2009 Michael accepted a scholarship to go to The University of Missouri. While at the University of Missouri, Michael played four years of football. In his senior year, Michael was an All-American Defensive lineman and he was named the defensive player of the year in 2013. When it comes to football Michael does not mess around. He is there to get the job done. There is just one thing about Michael that many people do not know. In 2013 after graduating, Michael came out as being gay. By doing this Michael may have possibly opened the door for gay athletes and gay’s in general everywhere.

When Michael Sam came out of the closet, a slew of activism hit the social media world. Thousands of people went to social media venues such as twitter, blog pages, Facebook, and more to show their support for Michael’s courageous move to come out to the world and say he that he was gay. Many professional athletes even went to twitter to applaud Michael Sam on his act of bravery to admit he was gay. Others, however, came out saying that there is no room for him playing a manly sport. These naysayers also were saying that he will make the locker room atmosphere weird. These tweets use many derogatory terms towards gay people and even some just against black people in general. If that wasn’t enough, other people brought racism into the issue. The majority of this activism was positive and you are always going to get people who go against what you have to say. Everyone from The University of Missouri has his back on this issue. But there are always people that will be against him. Members of an anti-gay hate group known as the Westboro Baptist Church are amongst the group of people who are against Michael Sam’s decision to be openly gay. But not only are they against Michael Sam, they are against The University of Missouri for allowing a gay player to come out of their school.

The Michael Sam story is a fantastic example of opening the door for openly gay players to be accepted into professional sports. Not only allowing them to participate but also accepting them as an equal teammate. Michael  is expected to be drafted into the NFL in the first few rounds of the draft. The NFL draft begins on May 8th 2014 and many people are anticipating what is going to happen to Michael. Being an openly gay player in such a manly sport will not be an easy road, but with all the support Michael has, he will change the game as we see it.

In order for an individual to have confidence to come out about his sexuality, he or she is going to need to see that they will not be alone, and that people will support them which can be seen here.One of the most famous NFL players of all time Deion Sanders went to twitter to show his support for Michael Sam when he tweeted “Michael Sam isn’t the 1st gay player in the NFL although he is the 1st 2 come out.#Realtalk Let’s show him love like a family member. Truth”.  Jonathan Martin, a current NFL player, also showed support to Michael Sam by tweeting, “Hats off to you Michael Sam, that takes some guts #respect”. Both of these tweets are coming from well-known individuals in the country. The main message behinds these tweets are saying that it is okay to be gay and people should not be afraid to admit who they actually are. These tweets are really promoting acceptance into the professional sporting world, especially Dion Sanders. His tweet offers comfort and acceptance, saying how a teammate is family member and needs to be loved no matter his sexual orientation.  Another well recognized NFL player DeAngelo Williams, tweeted, “I could care less about a man’s sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!” This tweet makes a huge statement about the NFL. This tweet is saying how Michael Sam or any person for that instance, who is a professional athlete, should not be seen as a homosexual, but as a player/teammate. As Williams said, it’s about winning games. If a player can play, why does it matter if he is straight or not as long as he his benefitting the team? This is also showing acceptance into the locker room which plays a huge role for any professional sports team.  All team bonding and team chemistry starts in the locker room, by having a player such as the likes of DeAngelo Williams come out and say we do not care if your gay or straight we just want to win is a huge step for gay’s in professional sports.

These next two tweets also by professional football players also show how Michael Sam’s story is promoting acceptance not only in the NFL, but everywhere. First Tom Crabtree tweeted, “Good for Michael Sam. Takes courage for where he is in his career and where we are as a league. I applaud him.” And Malcolm Smith tweeted, “There is no room for bigotry in American sports. It takes courage to change the culture.” As seen in these tweets and from all the others, it is clear that players in the NFL are fine with gay players being on their team and in the league. These positive tweets from these tweets are showing how the NFL is moving forward, and that players do not care about a player’s sexuality. Which means the door is beginning to open for gay players in professional sports. All the positives that came from Michael’s story, such as the support that he has received from his future colleagues, peers, and regular individuals will be the final push that other closet gays needed to see, to not have to live in fear about their sexuality anymore. The NFL even released a statement supporting Michael Sam welcoming him into the league. The NFL released a statement found from a yahoo sports article titled “NFL’s players early reaction to Michael Sam mostly positive” “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” This statement is really incredible; no other player gets their own personal message welcoming them into the league.  The Michael Sam Story is clearly doing great things for professional sports.

Michael did not only receive support from other athletes, but from his entire community at the University of Missouri. Students and teammates of Michael  would use the #oneMizzou to show how they were proud and supportive of Michael Sam and his decision to open up about his sexuality. The University tweeted, “We support tigers of all stripes at Mizzou, proud of you #oneMizzou” Michael had the entire university behind him when he came out about his sexuality. Another peer of Michaels’s said, “Proud to be part of a university that shows so much support to news like that! Speaks volumes about Mizzou’s values! #OneMizzou”. Michaels’s decision to open up to the world and admit he is gay was a positive for everyone as can be seen through the social media activism. Hopefully from this event this will lead to more athletes and non-athletes to come out and express their true emotions. This event should let people know that there is support out there for them. People do not have to be afraid to be who there are. In terms of the sporting world, this should hopefully open the door for other gay athletes to come out. Now that athletes have seen the warm welcome Michael has received from the world, there should be nothing holding them back from admitting who they are. Athletes now have nothing to hide from. It is very possible that without social medias help spreading the word about this story, that the positive reception Michael received from individuals would never have been visible to the public.

In eve of the shocking information about Michael coming out as the first openly “gay” NFL prospect, Paula Deen also had some comments about his struggles.  Paula Deen has compared the struggle of her own issues with race as Michael Sam’s coming out as gay news.  The 67-year old Deen was caught on camera by verbally saying the “N” word on National Television.  She is quoted as saying, “It’s like that black football player who recently came out.  He said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player.  I do not want to be known as a gay football player.’ I know exactly what he is saying.” In this example where Deen compares herself to Michael Sam, she is implying that the situation with Sam is as much about race as it is about homophobia. Social media may have opened some new questions that may not have been possible before. As a result of these comments that were made by Deen, Social media sites were imploded with the backlash of these statements.

For example,  @doubledoubleg says, “A black, All American college grad. Football player potentially NFL bound now gets a parade because he sleeps with men. MLK would be proud.” Upon first glance, I did not really see how this really related to either racism or social activism.  In this tweet, race as well as sexuality becomes an issue. This is a form of social activism that is related to how one incident may be perceived in different ways than it was intended.  As the initial story came out it was simply, “NFL prospect comes out gay.”  Social media has taken one situation and builds upon the original story.  Now the reports on social media are, “gay ‘black’ NFL prospect”. It has played such a vital role in this situation some that has been positive, and some that has been negative as mentioned earlier in the project.  However there is much more to this issue than simply sexual preferences.   It is about the ways gender combines with race and class, also combined with the stereotypes and parts that are pressured upon African American men in America, and the sticky situation that Michael Sam is now in.  The stereotype of black superiority runs back to back with the perceptions that African American athletes are dangerous.  In terms of activism and how it has played an active role in concerns with race being as big of a factor as homophobia, the results are GAY.

Another tweet that came from the account @MaryFordgb, “It saddens me that black male role models now are either homo or in jail.  College football star Michael Sam: I’m gay.”  This tweet not only stereotypical, but racist at the same time.  It is stereotypical in the sense that all African Americans go to jail and are caught up in the whole ‘drug’ & ‘gang’ life.  It is racist because it is implying that there are no blacks who are worthy of being role models.  While this is not true, this tweet speaks out to the African American race.  They are still seen as a lesser person in society, and the notion that racism still doesn’t live on is completely false.  Although social media can portray the situation as either ‘positive’ reinforcement or ‘negative’ reinforcement, we can clearly see from these examples that it can also turn a situation and put a racist connotation to it.

Although there was a lot of support for Michael at first, there was, as expected, some negative backlash as well. As with any social movement, you cannot expect that everyone will be on board at first. If this were the case, there would obviously be no need for change. Realistically speaking, Michael will garner a lot of attention when drafted. This is an obvious concern for teams looking to sign Sam. National Football League (NFL) teams will have to consider this when drafting the first openly gay NFL player.

Former NFL head coach Herm Edwards said in Sports Illustrated, “When you go into the draft, look at it this way. Let’s say Michael Sam is not a gay player, but he’s a player that has some issues, off the field issues. The thing you talk about in the organization with the GM and obviously the owner is, can we handle this guy? Can we handle the media that’s going to come along with his situations? He’s bringing baggage into your locker room. So when you think about Michael Sam, all the sudden, can the players handle the media attention they’re going to get when they get the question asked, are you OK with a gay teammate?” Other players in the NFL show similar hesitation to Michael Sam’s coming-out on behalf of players in the locker room.

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There were immediate tweets by players in the Canadian Football League (CFL) following Sam’s announcement. Although they are not in the NFL, their tweets have been well noted. The following is taken from a Winnipeg Free Press article: “Just hours after Sam made his announcement on Sunday, Turner tweeted the following from his personal Twitter account: “@Blitz_Turner: Michael Sam locker room gonna come with complimentary robes.” Turner quickly deleted the tweet. Bruce, meanwhile, urged Sam, among other things, to “submit fully to God.” The CFL issued a statement to show they are not affiliated with these views; “”The comments made by these players are extremely disappointing and do not represent the CFL’s views or the views of the vast majority of our players,” said CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon in a statement issued by the league. “The CFL is supportive of openly gay athletes in professional sports and we commend the courage shown by Michael Sam. During the off-season, we have been working with an organization that specializes in this subject and look forward to announcing a formal partnership with them in the near future.”

Even worse were tweets by non-athletes. These tweets show us that although the gay community has made significant improvement, there is always going to be some individuals who oppose such progress. Social media allows them to voice these opinions and impede on any social justice movements. For this social issue—gay athletes’ acceptance in sports—social media is a medium which allows such promotion of acceptance. Likewise, it opens the door for anti-gay rights activists to voice their opinions as well. As we can see here, many people take a vulgar approach to opposing Michael Sam’s courage.

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As you can see, there were a number of tweets made to impede on the social movement Michael Sam is leading. Of the many tweets, many were simply too vulgar to reproduce in this post. Again, we see that no matter how much support there is for an individual, or the activist they lead, there will always be some against it.

As the saying goes, “you can’t please everyone.” This saying certainly applies to this issue. Just because people argue against your stance does not meant your issue is not worth fighting for. Social media provides the tools to become activists, and in this case promote the acceptance of gay football players. However, it also provides the tools necessary for those opposing your position to voice an opinion, and hinder any change.

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