Column: Sam signifies changing culture, ya feel me?

February 11, 2014

In the future, we’ll get to a day and age when being a gay athlete won’t be front-page news.

That’s not the case in today’s society.

On Sunday, however, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam brought us closer to that day by tearing at the cultural barrier that rejects homosexuality in sports.

On Sunday, Sam showed us that he’s not about dollars — he’s about change.

On Sunday, Sam, whose professional career has yet to begin, paved the way for young athletes who might not yet have the courage to stand up for who they are.

And in doing so, he reminded us that sometimes changing the game can be more important than playing it.

In sports, two kinds of athletes forge legacies that withstand the test of time — the kinds of legacies that are almost bigger than the sports themselves. There are the great ones, and there are the pioneers.

The great ones are those who play the game at a transcendent level. The pioneers change the way the game is played.

The list of great ones includes Babe Ruth, Joe Montana and Michael Jordan.

The list of pioneers includes Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby.

It’s unknown whether Sam will ever be a great one, but on Sunday, he became a pioneer before playing a single down in the NFL.

Sam could have refrained from coming out until his playing career was over, like other courageous athletes have done before him.

At the very least, he could have waited until he signed his first NFL contract, guaranteeing himself hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Instead, he opted to come out before the NFL combine, leaving general managers and player personnel a few months to evaluate him as a prospect before the NFL draft.

While they evaluate Sam, they should evaluate themselves as well and take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask where their own morals lie.

Which general managers are ready to help Sam destroy that barrier?

A few months ago, an NFL executive told Bleacher Report the league wasn’t ready for a gay player and wouldn’t be for three to five years.

The league has no choice now.

There are current projections that peg Sam, a first-team All-American, as a mid-round draft pick. He was the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC — the best football conference in the country. At 6 feet 2 inches and 255 pounds, he has the requisite size and skills necessary to contribute at the professional level.

And he just knowingly sacrificed his potential draft stock so the world could hear his message.

That’s bravery.

That’s courage.

That’s changing the game.

Ya feel me?

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