Time Is Now For Michael Sam

The poor-fitting jersey doesn’t lie. Michael Sam is a Montreal Alouette.

The defensive lineman who just happened to be gay was overlooked by NFL scouts who just happened to find enough wrong with him to be a “distraction”, or “not the right fit”.  Sam has signed a two year contract with Montreal, giving him enough time to prove he can make it in professional football.  His size (6’2”, 260) was a legitimate issue going into the NFL, but is less of one in the Canadian Football League.

The entire sporting world was glad to see Michael Sam, the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player Of The Year, come out in early 2014, and even happier when he was drafted in the 7th round by the St. Louis Rams.  They were less happy when Sam was cut after the preseason by the Rams, and even less so when the Dallas Cowboys cut him from their practice squad in October.  Sam’s pro career seemed to be over before it began, and an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars” seemed to hint that Sam, who is now 25 and engaged to his partner, would forever be known for breaking down the door, but still not being able to enter.  Even when Michael Sam showed up at the NFL veterans combine, it did not seem like he’d ever play in the league.

This is why playing in Canada is such a good sign.  The CFL has always been a few years ahead of the NFL in signing African-American players, starting black quarterbacks, hiring black coaches, and in the recent appointment of Jeffrey Orridge as commissioner continues this trend.  There are still bigots, as there always will be, but in the end they are true distraction, and ignoring them will be much better for society than ignoring the talents of Michael Sam.

Less than forty years ago, quarterbacks of color were few and far between in the National Football League. Those who did succeed, such as Joe Gilliam and James Harris, were still seen more or less as flukes.  There were successful black quarterbacks in the CFL before Warren Moon, like Grey Cup winner Chuck Ealey and Hall Of Famer Condredge Holloway, but it took Moon’s unqualified success to show the world that ignoring him was a mistake.  Moon went undrafted in 1978 after winning the Rose Bowl MVP for Washington, but teamed up with Tom Wilkinson to win five consecutive Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos before embarking on an another Hall Of Fame career in the NFL.

This is not to say that Michael Sam’s trajectory will be anything close to that of Warren Moon’s, or that Michael Sam will ever see action in the NFL.  However, every game Michael Sam plays will be one more than any out professional football player has ever done.  The more Michael Sams we have, the fewer closeted players we have who will need to retire before truly being themselves, and the greater the tradition that Dave Kopay, Jerry Smith, Roy Simmons, Wade Davis and many others had built in secret.

Even if Michael Sam never dresses up in a regular season NFL game, he has made a sizeable dent in the homophobia of professional sports.  If Sam can find his niche and succeed with the Alouettes, he can inspire the LGBTQ community not just by putting on a uniform, but buy actually playing the game he loves.