Former NFL player and member of the New England Patriots, Donte Stallworth, took to Twitter on Monday to express his staunch position in regards to NFL teams’ rumored hesitance to draft openly gay prospect Michael Sam, saying teams should not blame lack of success on media or locker rooms distractions. He goes on to say that any team that would blame a loss on such a thing would surely have been a loser anyway.
Sam could become the first active openly gay athlete in the four major U.S. sports after publicly coming out last weekend. He was an All-American defensive end for the Missouri Tigers and named 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Stallworth points to the Patriots as a team that he believes handles its business on and off the field in an exemplary fashion that would suit other teams well in their approach to drafting Sam and dealing with the accompanying media onslaught. It’s hard to argue with that.
The Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick-era Patriots have demonstrated an impressive ability to eliminate dialogue that diverges too far from the spectrum of football-related topics; rendering otherwise provocative media stories irrelevant by refusing to engage in conversation or often even acknowledge them. Their locker room and press conferences have often been difficult places for NFL reporters to do their jobs as Belichick has achieved his team’s complete adherence to a code of confidence that is exceptionally impenetrable.
Most importantly, this approach has made them the most perennially successful team in the NFL over the last 14 years.
New England considers itself an organization where anybody has a chance to go play and prove themselves without fearing that their efforts will be eclipsed by something over which they have no culpability. Kraft echoed this sentiment when speaking recently with Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald, addressing the point that Sam and his team enjoyed great success after he came out to them in August and adding that “If a player were gay and came into this locker room, it would be the most supportive system … I really believe that.”
Kraft’s sentiments aren’t shared by all, though. There is very different rhetoric coming from those who are wary of Sam’s future in the NFL, centering on how the hype and media interest would distract and hamper the team from performing their football duties.
Seriously? The NFL is a multi-billion dollar entity that has, among other things, recently weathered Spy Gate, Bountygate, a very contentious offseason lockout, a player who murdered his girlfriend then committed suicide in front of his coaches, and a burgeoning superstar currently imprisoned on charges of murder. Not to mention countless DUIs, domestic abuse charges and drug possession charges.
In light of this, it is a shame to have to include these types of scandals as context in a conversation regarding a player’s sexual orientation. This is a discussion that the American media shouldn’t need to have.
The discussion should instead be about the pride the NFL feels. The unprecedented success of Title IX, the first black man to play baseball, the first gay couple on TV and the first gay couple to be legally married – these are all things that have changed the scope of equality in the U.S. economically, socially and within pop culture. We should be talking about Michael Sam in that way.
Yet the innumerable murmurings and select anonymous statements from within the NFL, and even outside it, reflect beliefs that disregard this as a powerful step forward, and in fact go so far as to relegate it to being a distraction.
Sports are undoubtedly one of the most important and effective social equalizers for Americans. When our most popular professional sports league regards homosexuality within its locker rooms as a distraction, it sets the country back. Distraction is a word tossed around when there is a grave issue surrounding a team, self-imposed or otherwise: murder, cheating, disease, death. A man’s sexuality is not, and should never be, a distraction to a team that runs itself correctly.
All that any one of the 32 teams in the NFL needs to do is draft an All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and then go win football games. It seems like that should be pleasure enough for any organization, but if they need any advice on how to weather that media firestorm, they can always call the Patriots.