Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam made a public announcement this week that he is gay. In a sport that has maintained for many years a heavy dose of testosterone, it shows a tremendous amount of courage. Sam was a key part in the Tigers run to the SEC East title in 2013; in fact he may have inadvertantly provided the biggest key to Missouri's great season. He brought his team together when he told them he was gay as camp opened in August. Keeping his secret, and watching his back helped bring the Tigers together as a team, and brought them from a lower level SEC team, to SEC East champs.
After the news became public and started to spread like wildfire, administrators, coaches and athletes alike around the SEC expressed support for Sam.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said Sam was the "best defensive player we faced all season." Coaches from sports other than football also rallied behind Sam, including Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson who said, "Obviously we've got the freedom of choice and obviously he feels good about who he is. He came out and openly admitted it, and I'm sure he feels a lot better about himself and who he is."
What makes this announcement so courageous is the timing. Sam is projected by experts to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round in this spring's NFL Draft. That means that some NFL teams could choose not to draft him because of the fact he is gay. There is also the stigma attached to being in the same locker room with a gay teammate. (That's taboo) In other words there is more than just one Ritchie Incognito in the NFL. Incognito if you remember, was the Miami Dolphins lineman who was accused of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin unmercifully last year. There are still many hardline NFL players who are not ready to accept a gay teammate.
Gay players in the National Football League is nothing new. However, gay players who readily admit to being gay is. Conrad Dobler who played several years for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1970s admitted he was gay, but only after his career was over. Michael Sam has chosen to make the knowledge public for all to see, before he is even drafted. He said plainly, "I am a gay man. I want to own the truth."
By making the announcement that he is gay now, before he starts his NFL career, he prevents the nasty rumors that have surrounded many people in the public eye. Actors, policicians, and yes, athletes have been rumored to be gay for many years. Billie Jean King came out after her career had declined, while Martina Navratilova announced she was gay at the heighth of her tennis career. Until the announcement was made, tabloids carried several nasty stories about their sexual orientation. In my long career as a journalist, I have heard some of those same nasty rumors about several Major League Baseball players, and Nascar drivers as well as certain Country Music stars and actors. Now, Michael Sam has told his own story; what he calls owning the truth about his sexual preferences.
Oh, I'm sure reporters will flock to the camp of whichever NFL team drafts Michael Sam. They will be armed with a slew of questions that will have absolutely nothing to do with football, and everything to do with his love life. Everyone now knows the truth, and it is now up to us as fans, media and followers of the NFL to decide how we deal with it.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson, TN. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org