I played college ball. Small-time but still. Some of our coaches and several teammates had coached and played on the D-I level, and they said that we D-II student-athletes worked just as hard as they did in the big leagues. We also had the added benefit of not being coddled by our professors and of having to pay, basically, full tuition –– D-II and D-III schools offered only partial scholarships; full scholarships were unavailable to us. So, if you want to be technical, we actually worked harder than our D-I counterparts. Our only reward and the only thing driving us was the game of football itself. Either we were true ambassadors of the game or complete suckers. I choose to believe we were the former. The latter is just too sad to bear.
In all of my years playing football, including high school and elementary school, I met tons of guys, and if any of them were gay, I never knew. And I couldn’t have cared less. Not because I’m some bleeding heart liberal (though I kind of am) but because what my teammates did outside of the locker room or the classroom –– as long as it wasn’t illegal –– had absolutely no bearing on the outcomes of games. And, as you can imagine, winning is all that matters. From spring ball workouts (an hour of agility drills at 7 in the morning at the fieldhouse before class three days a week?), to spring ball (practice in pads four days a week after classes, when all of your friends are going to the lake to party?), to summer workouts, to summer camp, and to the season itself, you and your teammates are focused on one thing and one thing only: winning. And when you’re not at practice, watching film, or in class, you’re doing homework, and when you’re not doing homework, you’re vegging out (or, in my case, working a part-time job), surrounded mainly by your teammates. In other words, you get to know one another pretty darn well.
In the pros, you can do whatever the hell you want with whoever you want when you’re not at practice or watching film. In this sense, Michael Sam, the all-world defensive end from Missouri who just came out publicly, has already scaled a huge hurdle. He came out quietly to his Mizzou teammates and coaches, the people with whom he spent nearly all of his waking hours, and was warmly accepted. In the NFL, he will be taunted, yes, and in addition to all of the onfield, pre-game, and post-game dumbassery, Sam’s play also will be dissected by coaches, scouts, and the media talking heads who scrape and scrounge every minute of every day for something new to analyze. (I’ve already heard the Michael Sam story no fewer than 10 times today, and I turned on my TV for five minutes at 9 this morning.) His play will be dissected but –– and here’s the important part –– it will be dissected only at first and only temporarily. His first big sack or huge hit should shut everybody up for a while. Hopefully, for good. Because once we start talking about Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player, he won’t be alone.