Michael Sam's best potential legacy: An NFL player who happens to be gay

799

Hopefully five years from now this article will not need to be written, headlines will not be mad about it and Michael Sam will just be another player, waiting and hoping that his dream of playing professional football becomes a reality. Alas, America is the way it is, at this point in history.
Michael Sam, a defensive line prospect from Missouri, is for all intents and purposes a normal NFL draft prospect. A 6'2", 255 pounds defensive end from Hitchcock, Texas. Sam is currently projected to be taken around the fourth round of the NFL draft.
A decorated three year letterman at the University of Missouri where he was named the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year, first-team all-SEC and first-team All-American by Walter Camp and Sporting News. Sam's play on the field is not what makes him unique among his draft-hopeful peers. What makes Michael Sam unique, and this article necessary, is his sexual orientation.
On Sunday, in an ESPN exclusive interview with Chris Connelly on "Outside the Lines," Michael Sam revealed that he was gay and had been open about his sexual orientation with his teammates since August of this year.  Considering the fact that approximately nine million adults in the United States identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, Sam's decision to come out should not be a big deal.
Unfortunately, in modern America, it is.
 If drafted, Michael Sam will be the first openly gay active male athlete playing professionally in one of the four major American professional sports, making Sam a true trailblazer not only for the American LGBTQ community, but also for the American sports culture.
This is not a Jason Collins situation, where a player in the twilight of his career decides that he is comfortable enough to acknowledge his sexual orientation. No, this is a player who is attempting to enter into the NFL, make a name for himself and convince an NFL organization that he can help them win football games.
While just about any NFL affiliated individual will tell you that Sam will not be discriminated against for his sexual orientation, he is the first to challenge the traditional heterosexual NFL culture. The NFL cannot mandate teams to draft a certain player; the NFL draft is the ultimate example of NFL team individual freedom. Most of the talk post-draft is about who took a player too high or 'reached' for a prospect.
In such a scrutinized system, it makes you wonder: will teams immediately take Michael Sam off of their draft board because of the inherent distraction he will bring to the team? I hope that is not the case, but as anyone in professional sports will tell you, "It's a business". In the NFL, business means wins, not social activism.
If a team decides that Sam can help them win games, I do not doubt that Michael Sam will be given an opportunity to play professional football.
As Sam said in his groundbreaking interview with Connelly, "I am not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam: I'm a college graduate. I'm African-American, and I'm gay. I'm comfortable in my own skin. 
It seems as though the American perspective of homosexuality is progressing towards acceptance, something I am proud to see. Michael Sam is a trailblazer, but he is a football player first. He is not a 'gay football player', he is a 'football player who happens to be gay'.
If Sam wants to be a role model for young, frightened, gay American children, he needs to be defined by his play on the field. I could not have more respect for the stance Michael Sam took on Sunday. It is more courageous than anything I will probably ever do. Hopefully, when all is said and done, Michael Sam will be a productive NFL player, who happens to be gay. That would be the greatest legacy Sam could leave on the NFL.

-Small is a senior history and political science double major from Zionsville, Ind.