Michael Sam is a senior at The University of Missouri. He’s played defensive end (that’s football language) for four years. He’s the guy who won player of the year for his conference, is now an NFL draft hopeful, and just happens to be gay. Everyone and their homophobic uncle are having a major freakout, because OMG how is America’s pastime going to survive the gay apocalypse???
The idea that athletics and masculinity are eternally intertwined is something we learn early on. Boys play sports and girls play with Barbies. Imagine the ego blow my dad had when I was three and asked for a tea set (for the record, my mom bought it for me). Maybe it’s because I’m a gay cliché, or maybe it’s nature versus nurture, or maybe it’s because I’m the devil’s spawn (half true), but I never liked sports and it actually had a huge impact on how I was socially viewed. Because my interests weren't like the other boys, I was deemed gay by lack of association.
This probably was the opposite story of Sam’s childhood, because Michael Sam isn’t some average player; he’s good. Player of the YEAR good. From what I’ve researched (because let's be real I haven’t pretended to follow sports since high school) he’s got a real shot of being drafted based on his talent. Of course now there’s a media firestorm around his sexuality and people are betting it might kill his chances of going pro.
In our society we still hold onto the notion that straight dudes are masculine, while gay dudes aren’t. Gay men are still being labeled as weak, as less than their hetero counterparts. But what happens when one isn’t? When one isn’t just equal, but superior to the straight guys he competes against? What happens is that the hollow institution of masculinity, which our society has held on to for centuries, crumbles. And I have no doubt there are people who will stop at nothing to keep that house of cards standing.
Sam is strong, intelligent, powerful, and gay. He’s not just the first (potential) gay American professional football player, but the first face of what it means to be masculine and gay. Those who have tried their entire lives to make gay people second-rate citizens are questioning their morals because of him. And that is his biggest accomplishment yet.