When Michael Sam, likely NFL pick from the University of Missouri, announced that he is gay to ESPN's Chris Connelly and the New York Times on Sunday, it was a big moment for more than just sports fans.
"I came to tell the world that I'm an openly, proud gay man," Sam said to Connelly during an appearance on Outside The Lines. "I'm coming out because I just want to own my truth.”
Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL, a sport that is as macho and heterosexual as they come, which is why there has never been room for an (openly) gay player.
Hopefully, until now.
What's interesting about public 'coming out' announcements is that the immediate response for some is "Is this news?" or "So what?" as if sexual orientation doesn't matter. But it does.
Though gays and lesbians have more rights now than ever, we have not reached a post-homophobic and trans-phobic era. In several states throughout the U.S, gays and lesbians can still be fired for simply being who they are, and marriage and adoption rights vary state by state for the LGBTQ community. But what's most harrowing is the impact homophobia has on youth.
80 percent of LGBT students reports having been verbally harassed and they're twice as likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. Seeing a professional athlete who is 'out and proud' in a sport known for it's hyper-masculine and heterosexual culture is inspiring and paves the way for future LGBTQ athletes. This is why visibility matters.
"If Michael Sam can navigate this transition into the NFL as an out man of color, it will open doors for young people everywhere, particularly in football," said Akil Patterson in a statement by Athlete Ally, who played division I football as a closeted man. "More athletes will feel comfortable being true to themselves at a younger age and that will translate into better performance on the field and in the classroom."
Indeed, being that Sam may become a role model for gay men of color and gay male athletes is a big deal.
"In a very short period of time, athletics has gone from being known as ‘the last closet in America’ to being in a position to lead on this issue," said Hudson Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally in the release. "This is the power of sports.”
We can only hope that Sam is, in fact, picked for the upcoming NFL season and other professional athletes decide to come out and live their truth, too.