Tuck: Progressive America Not Ready For Gay Football Players

I find it to be an interesting contrast in story-lines here in 2014.  Russia’s stance on gay culture at at the Olympics and America’s sports media’s reaction to the announcement of a college football player turning pro Michael Sam saying he is gay.

On one hand, many across the world have applauded the United States for it’s stance on same-sex marriage and acceptance of gays and lesbians in society, especially with how it compares to Russia.

On the other hand, you would have thought an alien was going to play football when now former Missouri Tigers football player Michael Sam announced he was gay.

How can a country that is considered progressive react with such shock and awe at an athlete being gay?

My initial reaction was dismay and disappointment.  I really thought we, as a people, were better than that.  I thought we were ahead of the curve and such news wouldn’t be such major news.  So many of us have gay family and friends, and the news of someone announcing they’re gay usually results in a shoulder shrug, as if to say, ” Who cares? or That’s cool.”  To me, indifference would be a sign of progress, and a sign of acceptance.

Perhaps this around-the-clock coverage is an attempt to embrace Sam?  Perhaps it is overcompensation with the coverage it is receiving?  I tend to believe the media thinks that this news is still stunning.  Shocking to think a big, bad football player would be gay.  I believe the media underestimates it’s audience.  I also believe the media knows that a “touchy” subject can drive ratings and they are using the story to their advantage.

I still feel a bit disappointed today at our media’s reaction to this news, but I would like to acknowledge that it can be, and maybe even should be, an important moment for the gay community.  I do not want to diminish the importance for them with this announcement, as it is unique for the sport of football.  There are many gay athletes, active and retired, but very few that come out while they are playing.  People like Michael Sam are often viewed as an inspiration that it is okay to be yourself, and not worry about others opinions of your lifestyle.

Let me bring up another subject for comparison.

Did you even once think about the fact that for the second time in NFL history a black quarterback won the Super Bowl?


It wasn’t a major issue or story for the two weeks leading up to the game and it wasn’t a subject that I saw broached after the game. I know we never talked about it last week on the radio.  Not once.  Isn’t that amazing?

It was 26 years ago that Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.  Since then, only Steve McNair (1999), Donovan McNabb (2004), and Colin Kaepernick (last year) started a Super Bowl until Russell Wilson won a championship this season.

I guess what I am saying is that it is both confusing, and refreshing that it wasn’t a big deal to the point that every article online, every minute of sports talk radio, and every minute of Sportscenter covered it.  

There have been so many different black quarterbacks to play in the NFL since Doug Williams broke through with a title.  There have been great players,  #1 overall choices, Pro-Bowlers,  average players, and bad players.  There were 11 different black quarterbacks that started games this season.  I had to look it up.

And that is the point.  It’s not a big deal if your team drafts a black quarterback.  Or signs one as a free agent.  That is progress defined.  It’s become a mute point.  Black quarterbacks are simply quarterbacks.  Judged the same way white quarterbacks are.

So while I feel to some degree Russell Wilson and Michael Sam should be celebrated, I am excited that Wilson winning a Super Bowl wasn’t a big deal anymore and disappointed that Sam announcing he is gay still is.

My guess is that in 26 years when a gay football player is winning a Super Bowl we will be talking about him as a football player, and the fact he is gay will simply be a side-note.  We just aren’t there yet.