New York’s gay football fans are overjoyed to finally have an “openly proud gay man,” as Division I defensive lineman Michael Sam announced himself to be, possibly heading to the NFL.
“It’s pretty phenomenal,” said Rory Ray, commissioner of the NY Gay Flag Football League, which has about 300 members. Such an announcement coming from a top-ranked athlete demolishes yet another stereotype, said Ray: “If you’re gay, it doesn’t preclude you from being masculine, competitive and athletic.”
While other players have come out after they stopped playing professional football, Sam, 24, will be the first openly gay active NFL player should he be drafted in May. That looks likely: The consensus All American was named the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year by the AP in 2013 and before his announcement he was variously projected to be drafted in the first five rounds.
Ray, 35, who lives in Chelsea, said he and others will be following the draft and Sam’s career with great interest. “Will teams shy away from him, or take (his revelation) as a positive? I will definitely be watching to see how he does — how the teams and fans will treat him.”
“As a lifelong football fan and former player, I am proud of Michael Sam for coming out as gay, and doing so before the NFL draft. He stands out as a professional in his field and will be a role model for all sports players, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said City Council Member Corey Johnson.
“America is ready for an openly gay football star,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.
At Boxers in Chelsea, manager Justin Simmons was readying videos of Sam to put up on the screens of the sports bar Monday night. “It’s an amazing thing,” said Simmons. “Every athlete who’s gay should come out!”
Rachel Farr, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, predicted that Sam’s revelation will pave the way for other players to do exactly that.
Knowing that an openly gay player is on the field may also spur more LGBT people to follow football, a “notoriously heterosexist and homophobic” sport, added Farr, who researchs sexual orientation.
“Everyone applauds the door opening,” regardless of whether they appreciate the sport, said Jeff Stone, an Upper West Sider who is director of media relations for Dignity USA. “Not all people want to serve in the military, but all citizens should be able to do so if they wish,” said Stone.
As a pioneer, Sam will be in “a fishbowl of intense scrutiny,” but that’s preferable to keeping his sexual identity secret, said Farr. “All the difficulties involved in not being open comes with a price tag of greatly heightened psychological distress — living in the closet is stressful,” Farr explained.
Ray, 35, said he looks forward to the day when gay leagues are not necessary, and all people can play the sports they love together, without fear of taunting, bullying or abuse. When he played football for a high school located in a small military town, it was “definitely not” okay to be out, said Ray. “You knew about the kids who were gay: They were taunted and picked on,” he said.