I never thought I’d see the day. A black linebacker kissed his white boyfriend on national TV after being drafted into the NFL.
If Michael Sam never plays a down of pro football, he will still go down as one of the most important athletes in history.
Nothing against Jason Collins of the Brooklyn Nets or Robbie Rogers of the L.A. Galaxy, but they don’t play in the most macho of American sports. We knew Sam was boldly going where no gay man had publicly gone before, but Saturday’s visual really drove it home.
After two days and 248 picks, Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams. The video board at Radio City Music Hall cut to the ESPN feed from Sam’s draft party. He smushed a piece of cake in his boyfriend’s face, then they shared a big smooch.
Depending on your political and religious views, it was either a glorious breakout moment or proof America has gone over a cliff. I’ll admit, 20 years ago I would have been with the latter group. Times and attitudes change, especially with this issue.
You couldn’t help but be moved when Sam got the call from Rams coach Jeff Fisher. He all but collapsed onto a chair and started sobbing. Then he shared one of the biggest moments of his life with someone he loved.
The fact he loves a man instead of a woman is not for me to judge. The emotion was pure and genuine and something every human should be allowed to express. Now on to the subplots, like the NFL being on trial with Sam.
“If he isn’t selected, it’s a public black eye on the league,” OutSports.com founder Cyd Ziegler said before the draft.
Even after he was drafted, some were asking why it took so long. After all, Sam was the SEC’s co-defensive player of the year. Some teams even took punters before him.
Then Miami defensive back Don Jones tweeted “OMG” and “Horrible” after the kiss. He was summarily dumped on by about a million Internet commentators. Some will take it as proof that Sam would have been drafted higher if not for NFL homophobia.
Jones undoubtedly was not the only player who had that reaction. He was just the only dumb enough to tweet about it. But he also was not running the Dolphins war room.
Sam was a marginal prospect to begin with and had a bad performance at the NFL Combine. That’s where he held his only press conference. The overriding theme was that he wanted to be treated like a football player, not a gay football player.
That’s what the NFL was doing. If Sam hadn’t come out in February, nobody would have thought twice if he hadn’t been drafted. It should not have been seen as a litmus test of NFL tolerance. But since it was, you’d have to say the league passed.
I just wish eight more teams would have passed on Sam as the draft wound down. The last player selected is annually bestowed the honor of “Mr. Irrelevant.”
It’s evolved into week-long celebration in Newport Beach, Cal. The player and his family are invited to a golf tournament, a regatta and a dinner.
That’s where Mr. Irrelevant is given the Lowsman Trophy, a knockoff of the Heisman with the statue fumbling a football. It would have been awfully amusing to watch the festivities revolve around the defensive end from Missouri.
Sometimes, a kiss is not just a kiss. And regardless of how you feel about that or what happens from here, nobody will ever say Michael Sam is Mr. Irrelevant.
By David Whitley
©2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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