Are you a football fan? How about a fan of progressive politics and equality? If you answer yes to either of those questions, Michael Sam need no introduction. He's the first openly gay NFL player in the league's history, and an incredible athlete to boot. But not everyone, as it turns out, can keep the focus where it ought to be — ESPN covered Michael Sam's showering habits in the locker room Tuesday. Reporter Josina Andersen quoted an anonymous Rams defender, who said Sam may have been "waiting to take a shower, as not to make his teammates uncomfortable."
In fairness to Andersen, she wasn't indulging in any personal speculation, just relaying something she'd heard from another player. What exactly was said to her, and who said it, isn't clear. But what is and isn't salient news to share on-air is, ultimately, Anderson's decision.
Additionally, as SB Nation points out, the fact that Andersen had the information on hand does suggest she was asking players about it, a peculiarly intimate detail of the day-to-day locker room happenings that you wouldn't expect to hear about any straight player.
But it's important not to let whoever Andersen spoke to off the hook. The tacit implication of the comment — that the anonymous player believes Sam was "respecting their space" by waiting to shower — is that the anonymous player believes Sam is doing a favor by catering to the homophobia of his co-workers. It's a reasoning that prioritizes homophobia above Sam's right to equal standing in his workplace.
Whether it's true or not is impossible to know — and again, speculative and irrelevant unless Sam himself speaks on it. But at least one Rams player has responded, and he clearly didn't share the sentiment.
For years, the NFL has had a built-in reputation as a league hostile to anything short of a stereotypical vision of masculinity. But it's been thrilling to see how some players have stepped out in support of Sam, and now you can add his teammate and fellow defensive end Chris Long to that list.
Sadly, some NFL players reacted with disgust towards Sam's coming out, and his post-draft kiss from his boyfriend in particular. But at times, it feels like the media — and even the front offices of the teams themselves — have been stumbling over themselves more than the players have.
A Sports Illustrated story about Sam's coming-out prior to the NFL draft stands as a big example. One GM even claimed drafting Sam would cause a "chemical imbalance" in an NFL locker room, which might be only acceptable in 10 to 20 years. Ugh. Taken broadly, their message was clear: that they would prioritize reducing "distractions" over ensuring equal work protections for a prospective gay employee.
The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.
Luckily, Sam was drafted, albeit near the end of the seventh and final round of selections — five rounds lower, as The Nation sports editor Dave Zirin noted, than any former SEC Defensive Player of the Year had been drafted in the last ten years.
Taken in context, it's not hard to share Chris Long's take on all this. Maybe if NFL management took the responsibility for equal workplace rights a little more seriously, and if the media stopped stumbling over shower room scuttlebutt, they be "over it," too.
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