Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

February 24, 2014

With Sam's help, progress will progress

Brent Glasgow
Hendricks County Flyer

— American society isn’t always the quickest to evolve. Sometimes it needs a little push, and occasionally it comes from sports.

While Vladimir Putin’s Russia was bashed for its primitive approach to homosexuality leading up to the Winter Olympics, we in the U.S. still inhabit too much of a glass house to cast many stones.

The reluctance of Indiana and most other states to recognize gays as full-fledged human beings will someday seem asinine to the mass populous, like it currently does to the vast majority of those under 30. In the meantime, it’s a tortoise-speed slog toward equal rights for that estimated 20 percent of our people.

With any luck, progress will be aided by ongoing developments in sports that might help vanquish fear of the gay unknown.

SEC co-defensive player of the year and upcoming NFL draft pick Michael Sam recently came out to the world, and 10 months after doing the same, Jason Collins suited up in an NBA uniform this past Sunday. And while no one will confuse the roads they’ll travel with the one Jackie Robinson endured, theirs are important to the continued advancement of gays everywhere.

While homosexual themes made their way into American television by the early-1980s, major pro sports have remained perceived bastions of straightness, despite the obvious fact that closeted gays have occupied locker rooms since they came into existence.

How many? That’s hard to say. Throughout most of our modern history, most gays have chosen outlets other than team sports because of the treatment they knew they’d subject themselves to. But even if you cut the estimated societal percentage by 75 percent, that still puts an average of 2.65 homosexuals on each NFL active roster.

Because he made his move during the beginning of his career, compared to Collins’ twilight, Sam’s journey will be the more significant. He faces not only the prospect of enlightening fellow players as a whole, but especially those from his own race.

Around 60 percent of the NFL is African-American, a segment that trails only white evangelicals in negative attitudes toward homosexuality in the U.S. While campaigns to alter the perception of gays in the black community have been somewhat successful, there’s still a long way to go. Sam has put himself on the front line, where he’ll have to crack generations of instilled disapproval.

Sam has proven that can be done, because he came out to his Missouri teammates last year. Not only did the team have his back by not having a single player go public with the information, but the Tigers put up one of the best seasons in school history with Sam as a leader.

It’ll be interesting to see what team Sam lands with, because all are not on equal footing in terms of intellectualism or general intelligence. It’s possible he’ll end up with an organization that’ll foster a positive environment to help further rights for gay Americans. Or, he could end up with a bunch of knuckleheads.

Sam won’t get the death threats Robinson got when he joined the Dodgers in 1947, but I have no doubt he’ll hear plenty of derogatory terms when on the road. The NFL isn’t Hollywood, and its drunken fans aren’t Broadway attendees.

Being a pioneer has its disadvantages, but like Robinson, Sam is equipped to handle it. He saw one brother die after being shot. Two other brothers are in prison, and another hasn’t been seen in more than 15 years. He once lived in his mom’s car.

The NFL isn’t going to be any tougher than that.

Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Westside Flyer. He can be reached at brent.glasgow@flyergroup.com or 272-5800 ext. 190. Follow him or Twitter @BGlasgow37.