The revelation that Missouri linebacker Michael Sam, viewed as a Day 3 draft pick in May's NFL draft, is gay has put the NFL in the news at a time when things are slowing down and players are only star starting to shake off the rust of healing by starting to work out on their own prior to the onset of organized team activities and semi-voluntary workout programs.
The question of whether the NFL is ready to integrate gay players is the real question. There have been gay NFL players for decades – and not just two or three. The difference was that nobody came out publicly and said it. Perhaps we have reached a period in our evolution that it shouldn't matter if someone is gay or straight.
It won't be long until marriage equality becomes federally mandated for those states that will be leaving heel marks while being dragged into compliance. The same has happened in our nation's history. Women getting the right to vote took far too long. Racial equality has taken longer, and some can argue that while we're as close as we've ever been to actual racial equality in this country there remains huge inequities that will only be erased when those at the highest level of power get old and die off.
Every movement has had a flashpoint of resistance. For the civil rights movement, it was the non-integrated South that provided that critical point of whether the equal rights to African Americans would be granted, delayed or denied.
In the debate over the universal acceptance of one's sexual orientation, there is no bigger proving ground than an NFL locker room.
As someone who has spent 20 years in NFL locker rooms, there are few environments that are more high-testosterone. These are the guys that have always been the alpha males of their herd. This isn't a lunchroom counter in Selma. This is Kanye West crashing a Klan rally. It's big.
In his own way, Sam is going to be the Jackie Robinson test case. The Brooklyn Dodgers were the team that made the decision to integrate Major League Baseball. As a prospect with a grade somewhere in the third or fourth round, the length of time Sam remains on the board will be telling.
There will be some teams, like it or not, that will rank him so low the only way he ends up on their roster is if it's in the seventh round. If then. Professional interviewee Chris Kluwe has opined that that the Patriots and Packers would be the ideal landing spots for Sam. Apparently he has become a go-to "expert" on the inner psyche of a homosexual man, although he is not one himself. If you believe Kluwe's rationale, he was cut for his mere support of gay causes. How will a locker room and a front office react to someone that isn't merely a propped-up mouthpiece for the cause, but an actual advocate for the cause? That is the question.
There is no easy answer to whether a locker room will or won't accept Sam. The good news is that it is no longer a question of if, but rather when, drafting a player won't be impacted by what he does on his own time. Skin color is no longer an impediment to drafting. Someday, perhaps not today, the idea of an openly gay teammate who can, as is the prerequisite in NFL, make the team better, won't be an issue.
In the NFL's past, it was proven commodities that broke the color barrier. It was the upstart AFL that made football an equal opportunity employer. A half century later, the same process is replicating. There will come a time where a player's personal life doesn't throw up an organizational red flag.
The NFL wanted the Incognito/Martin bullying story to go away. In the short-term, it has. In the big picture, the NFL locker room is being viewed as the litmus test for the equal rights of homosexuals.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Holler: NFL now litmus test for gay rights
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