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Editor's column: Sam is no Robinson, but he’s changing the playing field

Still, I can’t wait for the day when gay athletes are in the news for what they do, not who they are.

February 15, 2014
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Chances are pretty good there won't be a "Michael Sam Day" in the NFL in 50 years like Major League Baseball has a "Jackie Robinson Day" every season.

Good. I don't want Michael Sam to be celebrated like that. I don't want him compared to Jackie Robinson. It wouldn't be fair to either.

Sam, in case you missed it, came out in an ESPN interview Sunday, admitting he is gay, months before the NFL draft. He won't be the first gay athlete to play in the NFL, just the first we'll all know about. For the first time in the history of watching a football game we'll be able to say: "He was tackled by the gay guy." For the record, I'm not suggesting we say that.

The aftermath of Sam's coming out? Speculation as to what this will do to his "stock" in this year's draft began immediately and GMs from around the NFL chimed in. The people who choose not to judge others based on their sexual preference all said the right things. The homophobes bit their tongues, probably waiting for something bad to happen in some locker room during OTAs or training camp this summer.

Personally, I'm longing for the day when this isn't news, when TV networks like ESPN don't drop everything to interview a relative unknown college football player and make him a household name just because he's a homosexual.

He's gay. Big whup.

That's where we need to get to in this society - that time in history when we see him make that tackle, we see a football player making a tackle, not a gay football player making a tackle. The WNBA is full of lesbian athletes - why aren't we talking about them?

Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 when he played in his first pro baseball game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Today, almost seven decades removed from that historic moment, we still celebrate him. Will we be doing the same for Sam 70 years from now? Maybe, but we have to see how this plays out first.

Robinson's taking the field had plenty of repercussions. He encountered racism from opposing teams and fans, even from some of his own teammates. Despite receiving death threats, Robinson thrived on the field. In 1949 he was the MVP in the National League after hitting .342 and stealing 37 bases. A year later, a movie about his life was released. And today, he's still rightly regarded as an American hero. Yes, sports figures can be American heroes. Not a lot of them, but some do deserve that moniker.

Sam will never become a Robinson-like icon, so save the comparisons. This society, as a whole, won't allow him to be revered like Robinson has been. Many will accept him, many will not, but those cowards will keep to themselves, too gutless to go on record with their thoughts about gays. It's also not likely Sam will be starring in a movie about himself in a couple years, but who really cares? We should thank Sam, not for being a good football player, but for having the strength to tell the world: "I'm gay, deal."

We should all care less about what people think of us.

Sam and Robinson do have some things in common. Both are athletes, both are black, and neither has anything to apologize for. Robinson, who couldn't hide who he was from white America even if he wanted to, made it possible for black athletes like Sam to play pro ball. If we're lucky, Sam is in the process of doing something similar for the next generation of men with one foot outside of the closet.



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