Not Quite Mr. Irrelevant

Jarret Nathan

Brandon Wade, Associate Press

A few more eyes than usual were on Day 3 of this year's NFL Draft. It had been four months since University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced to the world that he is gay and, because of his All-American status, stood a chance to be the first openly gay athlete to be drafted into the NFL. It was a momentous announcement given the history of homosexuality in the predominantly closeted world of professional sports.

Only in recent months players have been given anonymous polls to test the degree to which they would accept to the possibility of sharing a locker room with a gay athlete. The pulse of the nation is split into varying degrees of acceptance as to the case of Michael Sam. There are those who feel that the story needs to be covered excessively and that the advancement of gay rights is at the forefront of this issue. There are also those who feel that this is simply a non-story and that the focus should be about football and football only. Let's combine these sentiments and move forward as a country and as a sports community. Sam’s announcement was a major step forward for the progress of society and how it is mirrored in the sports world. He will become an influence for those who have yet to come out. He will become the leader and the purveyor of the advancement for homosexuals in professional sports. The story needed to happen. It had to be covered. But it’s time to move on.

The story the past week has been about Sam becoming the first openly gay athlete in the NFL anymore, but it needn't continue to be. Sam is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and, yes, he was probably overlooked and drafted later than he should have been because of this “controversy” surrounding him. We as the media have said our piece about Sam as a person and as a courageous leader, and have had plenty of time to gauge to level of acceptance around the league. But now it's time for Michael Sam to focus on football, and hopefully he’ll be able to, given that he was drafted by a team and a city who will accept him as family. In the SEC, football is king; it'll be a huge benefit for him to remain in the same state that bred his fame and domination as solely an athlete, a guy who was really good at football and whom everybody loved.

In his piece about Sam, Nate Silver said that “a higher percentage of people in St. Louis and elsewhere in Missouri will know Sam as a football player and not just a gay athlete.” Let’s all, not just those in Missouri, take this statement seriously and move away from this being a story about “just a gay athlete” to a story about a dominant college athlete getting drafted in to the NFL who happens to be gay.

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