When all eyes turned to New Orleans, I thought, finally, things will change.
By Elizabeth Ann Thompson
It's 2014, time for the NFL to accept Michael Sam and any other gay player.
Sam, an All-American defensive end at Missouri, came out to his team last summer and to the world this past Sunday, three months before the NFL draft.
If drafted, he will be the first openly gay male athlete currently playing in professional football, baseball, hockey or basketball.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the NFL said in a statement. "Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
But several NFL coaches and general managers told Sports Illustrated that the league is not ready for this. As one put it, "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time, it's still a man's-man game. ... It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
The idea that gay athletes should just wait for a decade or two is similar to the claim made to civil rights activists back in the 1960s. But as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "There is such a thing as being too late."
And the idea that a gay athlete would create a "chemical imbalance" in the locker room is all too similar to the claim made when the Pentagon announced its plan to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. To date, there have been no cases of "chemical imbalance" in the military.
These are the last refuges of bigots.
There are 2,000 players in the NFL. It is likely that at least a few dozen of them are gay, but for understandable reasons, they have chosen not to come out. This makes Sam's decision, timed as it was before he has even been drafted, all the more courageous.
The NFL does have a sexual orientation, anti-discrimination and harassment policy. It is now being put to the test.
If Michael Sam is not drafted, we will know that the NFL has failed the test, since a player of his stature almost always gets picked in the first three or four rounds.
If Michael Sam is drafted but hounded out of the league by the prejudice of players, coaches, team executives or fans, we will know that the NFL has failed the test.
Here's hoping the NFL passes the test.
We've been here before in sports. Sam can do for gay athletes what Jackie Robinson did for black athletes.
Change comes slowly. Thank you, Michael Sam, for the first step.
Elizabeth Ann Thompson is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright Elizabeth Ann Thompson.