The Washington Times-Herald

Columns

May 17, 2014

It's a brave new world for NFL in 2014

For decades upon decades, the National Football League has had a reputation as a tough, hardcore brand of sport that often turns athletic young men into beaten down pieces of meat in short order. This game has breathed life into a country and in return the fans of this sport have made it the most popular attraction in the United States. The NFL has been referenced by colorful adjectives over the past 40 years — exciting, violent, dangerous and even homophobic.

That last word is the one that moves the needle most often in 2014. Long have the fans and players of this professional sports league portrayed an image of strength, speed and skill that did its best to single out any trait in a man that was perceived as weakness. Homosexuality was one of those traits, but things are changing for the better. At the front of that change is newly drafted linebacker Michael Sam.

Sam’s decision to come out of the closet a few months ago as he entered the NFL Draft was a seminal moment for professional football. Being drafted was a big moment since no openly gay player had ever been drafted into this league, but the fashion in which he walked through that door was an act that will forever change professional sports of all kinds. Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh and final round with pick No. 249. This was a moment that will live on forever as either a tremendously positive show of progress in American society, or the beginning of the end of the fabric of core family values, depending on where you stand on this polarizing issue.

ESPN’s cameras were on Sam in his home, surrounded by his family and friends, as they are with many of the high profile draftees. Sam’s emotional response upon getting the phone call from the Rams showed the happiness of a man who saw his dreams coming true. Like any athlete being drafted, Sam embraced his significant other with a kiss. Unlike any other draftee ever before seen on camera, Sam shared a kiss another man, his boyfriend to be exact. The kiss was so short, that it shouldn’t have been newsworthy, but it was.

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