In a move that is sure to rattle the world of sports, former Missouri Tiger and current NFL Draft prospect Michael Sam has announced that he is gay. Sam, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is projected to be a mid round pick in the draft, and he will now be both the most marketable man in the NFL, and the player with the most pressure on his shoulders.
While in most modern circles there is no stigma associated with being gay–and rightly so–there has never before been an openly gay player in the NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA. Sam is a near lock to change this. In a sense he is the Jackie Robinson of his era and accordingly he can expect to hear some vile and juvenile things when he steps on a football field.
For a rookie to take on the responsibility of holding an entire community that is not represented in any major sporting venue on their arms this will bring a huge deal of responsibility. Whether or not he knows it, an entire portion of the United States is now being represented by Sam, and he will have to deal with the pressure, admiration and community outreach that comes with taking on this role.
This will mean that Sam will likely overshadow the likes of Tim Tebow when it comes to fan appreciation, off-field appearances and hearing awful things from detractors, and there is simply nothing he can do about it. He will be both the most profitable rookie for whoever drafts him, and the one who the most people will want to see fail to succeed on the field.
One thing that coming out as being gay should not do is have any effect on the draft stock of Sam. After watching him pick up 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss during the 2013 college football season, it is obvious the man can play football. The 6-foot-2, 260 pound man has all the tools that will make scouts salivate, including a 4.74 40, innate quickness to get by opposing linemen off the snap and a general ability to get in the backfield.
With the physical tools and on-field collegiate play to rival almost any prospect in the entire 2014 NFL Draft, Sam will be impossible for scouts to ignore, and he will clearly be playing on an NFL field next season. And whether he likes it or not, he will now become both the most loved and hated player in the league, all before ever taking a single snap.
Michael Sam is the 21st century version of Jackie Robinson.