If you're a sports fan, a football fan specifically, the name Michael Sam probably rings a bell. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and prior to the NFL draft, he made headlines for a positively groundbreaking reason — he came out as gay, making him the first openly gay NFL prospect. But now, two NFL practice squad gigs and a brief stint in the Canadian Football League (CFL) later, his story is changing: Michael Sam has quite professional football, citing mental health concerns. He made a statement on Twitter Friday evening, announcing he'd be leaving the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.
Sam declined to specify what kind of mental health concerns he's dealing with, but regardless, he might enjoy getting some time out of the spotlight. He's undeniably been the subject of a lot more attention than would be usual for a player in his current position — a nondescript 6'2" defensive end just starting off in the CFL wouldn't normally be subjected to this much public scrutiny. (I'm going to guess you couldn't name any of the other players for the Alouettes.)
But, by virtue of his trailblazing status as an openly gay athlete, each of his career moves have been tracked by heightened media coverage.
For what it's worth, Sam didn't rule out an eventual return to the field, and that's heartening — if he still enjoys the game, and wants to someday fulfill his football-related dreams, it's all the more important a statement that he's willing to step away to take care of himself.
Whether he'd have an easy time coming back is another matter, however. The world of professional sports has a ways to go as far as attitudes about mental health are concerned — NBA player Royce White, for example, has struggled to find a stable home in the league, thanks in large part to teams' wariness about his anxiety issues.
And even beyond the question of whether teams would want to sign Sam when he was ready to come back, the sands of time won't be working in his favor. American football is a very high-turnover sport — the average length of an NFL career is just over three years, and at 25, Sam is already a good three to four years older than most incoming NFL rookies.
But if he's willing to take on the challenge, and he feels his health and wellbeing are in order, there's no doubt that he could do it. Although there's been a lot of revisionist history to try to justify how his career has gone, Sam was the best defensive player in one of the best college football conferences in America, and he was by all reports beloved as a teammate. But obviously, whether it's worth it is entirely up to him to decide.