For the NFL, the story of Michael Sam doesn’t stop after his selection by the St. Louis Rams at pick No. 249 in the 2014 NFL Draft. In actuality, it is the beginning of a story that has yet to be told, a story that is no longer in the hands of the NFL’s public relations team, but one that will instead be told among the league’s players and fans.
It is a story still walking the tightrope of having a happy ending made for Hollywood, or one that quietly fades into oblivion.
The ending to this story will be written by the millions of cheering fans in stadiums around the nation, and the hundreds of professional football players lining up alongside and across from Sam. The homophobic slurs will be thrown his way by drunken fans, his intestinal fortitude will be called into question by opposing players, and he will be interrogated by the media following every practice and game.
Don Jones of the Miami Dolphins proved how far this story is from completion by simply tweeting “horrible” following ESPN’s live coverage of Sam’s selection that showed him kissing his partner through tears of joy and celebration.
This isn’t about personal beliefs or sexual orientation. This story is about allowing a man to do his job. In the world of TMZ and social media, the personal lives of athletes tend to overshadow their accomplishments or ability. Fan opinion of players are no longer based solely on their play, and the hate of Sam will inevitably come, and it will come from all directions. Yet, what need is there for it?
If we want this story have a happy and successful ending, the responsibility lies within us fans. Will we choose to allow this man the same opportunity to chase his dreams as any other player?
This is a question that the NFL now faces going forward. However, if we are going to call on fans and players to treat him as a normal player, the same must be said for the other side of the argument, ensuring that no special treatment be given to Sam just because his situation is the first of its kind in the league.
I’d be willing to assume that Sam would agree with that statement. If he is performing at a level worthy of making the Rams’ 53-man roster, then he has every right to do so. However, if his skills are overshadowed by others and is subsequently released, will we treat his release as we would any other player? It’s a double-edged sword.
Such a subject is sensitive for the NFL and its fans. It brings together two groups who have historically not always seen eye to eye — the gay community and sports fans. The situation is unprecedented and will therefore carry a stigma throughout Sam’s tenure in the NFL.
If you don’t want to watch Sam play a single snap in the NFL, then by all means don’t — no one is asking you to cheer for him. But now is a time to take a step back and allow him the opportunity to play the sport he loves.
If you are granted the right to go to work everyday without having your character called into question, why shouldn’t he? The opening chapter to the revolutionary story of Michael Sam has been written, but it is up to us to define the tone of the rest of the book. Don’t drop the ball.