KILLER CROSSOVER: Michael Sam’s coming out sheds light on NFL culture

Matt McKinney is a junior journalism major and writes ‘Killer Crossover’ for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. Write to Matt at

When a University of Missouri defensive end announced he was gay, it was announced as a “barrier-breaking” move.

But Michael Sam’s move shouldn’t be. The barrier shouldn’t even be there.

He will be the first openly gay NFL player if he’s picked up by a team in early May. If Sam isn’t drafted, it won’t be because of anything on the football field. After all, Sam racked up 11.5 sacks to lead the SEC.

However, because of his size and athleticism, Sam looks to be a late-round pick. Late-round picks usually have to find their niche on special teams before earning a role in their positions.

So, how would Sam fit in with the Minnesota Vikings? Its special teams coach reportedly said things like, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”

Not exactly a forward-thinking sentiment or the most welcoming situation.

The majority of NFL players will accept Sam as seen on social media and through press conferences. It won’t be an issue, at all.

Even within the Bible Belt, there is acceptance. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said he would have “no problem” with having a gay teammate.

Still, the locker room mentality is not as progressive as some of society.

“Unfortunately, [being gay is] a lot more OK in society than it is in lots of locker rooms,” one NFL scout said to Sports Illustrated. “Some locker rooms are still stuck in the ’50s.”

And that’s totally true.

In texts released between former Miami Dolphins Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the true nature of most NFL locker rooms was unveiled. Incognito and Martin would constantly call each other gay slurs and talk about who to blame for “gay tendencies.”

Adding to the negativity of the Dolphins’ locker room last year, wide receiver Mike Wallace tweeted, “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys SMH…”

He later retracted the tweet and apologized, saying he just didn’t understand the concept of being gay. As if that’s anything to be confused about. His gut instinct shows his true colors — he wasn’t comfortable with gay teammates, as they waste their masculinity on other men.

And recently, Jonathan Vilma, a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, said he was worried about a fellow player looking at him in the shower.

“Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me,” Vilma said. “How am I supposed to respond?”

Well, you’re supposed to respond exactly how you would respond if anybody else happened to look at you. A gay man in a locker room isn’t automatically on the prowl for sexual partners — he may just be glancing around a room.

Sam’s decision is and should be applauded, but it shouldn’t be shocking. The NFL clearly has a way to go before being 100 percent accepting of openly gay athletes.

Someday, a professional athlete will come out and it won’t lead ESPN, CNN and other major news sites.

That day isn’t today, and you can thank NFL players and the culture they live in for that.


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