By Jared Max
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“Do you really think that is the reason why Michael Sam is not on an NFL roster?”
Every time I get asked this question, I am reminded why Sam has not found a job since he graduated college. Not only is he being held back by NFL homophobia, Sam is trapped inside a burning building where the world’s most powerful sprinkler system is installed but has not been turned on.
Last year, Americans led a worldwide social media phenomenon that raised over $220 million for ALS research. When inspired to support a cause, our generosity seems endless. But, in order to start a fire, as Bruce Springsteen told us, we need a spark.
Last October, I challenged closeted gay professional athletes to shoulder their share of the tab — to recognize their free lunch was being paid for by an unsigned rookie. Sadly, no progress resulted. Instead, Sam was signed to dance on a reality TV show where his participation supports the juvenile identity that has kept him from being signed to an active NFL roster: “Gay player.”
Today, I challenge those who have a direct line to progress.
Is there one NFL team owner among 32 who is strong enough to strike this match? Is there one billionaire not beholden to the fraternity above righteousness? Is there one Mark Cuban among Roger Goodell’s constituents to be a modern day warrior and say “To heck with you. I am going to sign the best defensive football player that the rest of you sheep have avoided?” Is there one NFL owner whose jewels are big enough to match the toughness of Michael Sam?
I nominate New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. He is the one.
Loving and tough. A caring, compassionate individual who recognizes the power of his wallet and his voice. An unwavering competitive drive to win. One year ago, the Patriots owner told my friend Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald that he would welcome Michael Sam.
“We’re about winning. And anyone who can come in here and help us win, I personally don’t care what their ethnic background is, their racial background, the gender preference. If they can help us win, and they’re about team first, then I’m happy to have him here,” Kraft said.
Knowing how well Kraft sincerely treated Buckley after he came out in January of 2011, I believe the Patriots are in the best position to become the NFL’s version of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. While I have voiced consistent dissension against such comparisons, I believe we have a reached a point in this argument where the firewall between oppression and equality in American pro sports has been reinforced so thickly, it would not be disrespectful to reference Jackie Robinson’s name.
So, who is going to be Branch Rickey?
Sam has been kept from fulfilling his rightful dream because the NFL is scared — xenophobic about what it does not know. What an irrational reason to hinder forward progress! What a heresy! What a sad statement on who we are!
At this point, I would not object if Americans poured ice over their heads for fun, self-promotion under another guise of being magnanimous — if it meant that awareness could be raised to where it needs to be. Among leaders of sport, Kraft may have been the most instrumental champion of the ALS Challenge. I have no doubt that his golden heart could produce a paradigm shift in American sports culture.
Last weekend, Sam participated in the first NFL veterans combine. His numbers were unimpressive, leaving many league experts to doubt his abilities. Slower than when he ran at the 2014 rookie combine, Sam appeared sidetracked by an NFL general manager who told TMZ, “The concern was he did not look focused on the game. He regressed.” One high-powered player agent said Sam was “flat out horrible” and “did not belong out there.” Another top agent said, “Here was a chance to show his determination and dedication and the GMs didn’t see that.”
Maybe Sam has lost some of his drive to give blood, sweat and tears to the NFL. He cannot be faulted, if so. He continues to defy odds with undying determination and positivity.
“As long as I have that will to play the game and I am healthy, you’ll continue to see me trying to play in this league. I am very confident I will be playing football somewhere,” he said recently.
Is the Canadian Football League good enough for the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year?
“If that’s the opportunity, I’ll take it. I’m a fighter and I’m going to keep fighting,” Sam said.
Sam may or may not benefit from his never-say-die attitude.
When I was in elementary school, this approach kept me from failing a science class. Despite staring at an “F” just days from the end of a marking period, I ignored my belief and followed my mother’s wisdom. She told me to speak to my teacher to see if there was anything possible I could do to improve my grade. She told me to say that I would make up all my incomplete work, regardless of whether it would improve my grade. I relayed this to my teacher. I did the work. I did not fail.
For a country that preaches how important it is for everybody to accept each other for who we are — not what we are — we are failing “Decency 101.” But, there is always time to make a better grade.
Follow Jared on Twitter at @Jared_Max