As the first openly gay player in the NFL, Michael Sam was always going to attract attention. But it was still odd to hear reporter Josina Anderson give ESPN SportsCenter viewers details about Sam’s shower schedule.
Anderson reported that “a Rams defensive player told me that ‘Sam is respecting our space’ and that, from his perspective, he seems to think that Michael Sam is kind of waiting to take a shower, as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable.”
The St. Louis Rams’ defensive end, who came out to his teammates at the University of Missouri prior to his senior year in 2013 and then publicly just before the 2014 NFL Draft, has had the spotlight cast on him for being the first openly gay player in the NFL. Many applauded him for his courage, while others called him a potential distraction to teammates or said he wasn’t talented enough to compete in the NFL, despite winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Year Award last year.
More recently, Arizona State backup offensive lineman Edward “Chip” Sarafin came out publicly in an LGBT sports magazine.
Sarafin, who is a redshirt senior, is the first openly gay active player in major college football, according to Outsports. In the interview, Sarafin claimed that coming out “was really personal for me, and it benefited my peace of mind greatly.”
“I’m hoping that stuff like this won’t be such a big news story, that people will hear stories like this and it won’t be such a big thing,” Sarafin said in an interview last week. “Eventually, players will be who they are and it’s just that, but right now there still needs to be role models for those types of players.”
Brittany Griner, the news-making forward for the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, came out last year to significantly less fanfare. Griner attended Baylor University, was an All-American and brought a dominant senior season that saw her winning the NCAA women’s basketball National Championship. In light of all of the accomplishments and revenue that Griner’s talent’s brought the University, they stifled her attempts to publicly announce her sexual orientation while still a student athlete. Once Griner was drafted by Phoenix to play in the WNBA, she came out publicly and talked openly about her struggles being bullied while growing up, and about her experience at Baylor. Griner recently signed a major endorsement deal with Nike.
Michael Sam’s and Brittney Griner’s stories serve as a reminder that attitudes towards gay athletes are still skewed towards labeling them as distractions or as PR nightmares, based solely on their sexual orientation, as was the case today on ESPN SportsCenter. Professional sports teams have seen more than their fair share of gay athletes over the years; the difference today is that more of them are choosing to live openly rather than with one foot still in the closet.