Michael Sam, who in 2014 became the first openly gay American footballer to be drafted into the NFL, this week announced that he was stepping away from the sport, citing concerns about his mental health after a ‘difficult’ 12 months.
The story was all so different just over a year ago. A stand out defensive player in college, Sam was picked in the seventh round of the draft (where the best college players get picked to go and play professional football in the National Football League) at position number 249 by the St Louis Rams.
Since then he has failed to make it onto the Rams team, failed to make it onto the Dallas Cowboys team and latterly failed to shine in the Canadian Football League (the CFL) where he played (briefly) for the Montreal Alouettes.
On a more positive note he won the title of GQ Man of the Year for his courageous decision to announce his homosexuality before draft day.
However, that career seems to have come to and end with the announcement he was moving away from sport due to fight with depression.
“The last 12 months have been very difficult for me to the point where I’ve been concerned with my mental health,” the 25-year-old wrote. “ Because of this, I am going to step away from the game at this time.
“I thank the Alouettes for this opportunity and hope to be back on the field soon.”
It really wasn’t meant to have ended up like this. A quality player in his early college years, it was once thought that he was going to set the world alight, regardless of his sexuality.
However, it all went wrong pretty quickly. Without going too technical for those who don’t watch the sport, a few weeks before the draft all the players do tests on their strength and speed to show the pro teams how good they are. Sam did terribly and he consequently went far lower in the draft than was expected.
Now this is where all the problems started. Whilst most of us wanted to see him succeed or fail on his own merits, there immediately began a war between the gay rights lobby, those who were anti the media shoving the Sam agenda down their throat, and people who were just homophobic.
Once the happiness had died down about him being drafted, the PC fascists started to push that he was only drafted late because he was gay, and that teams had been bigoted making other selections ahead of him. There were those who though he was only drafted AT ALL because he was gay and that the NFL didn’t want to come across as homophobic. Then there were those who didn’t want gays running around ‘their sport’.
Every time he failed things would get worse. When the Rams and the Cowboys released him, social media was full of gay rights groups calling it homophobic and calling for legal action. There were those who who were militant that he wasn’t good enough, giving far more time to a player being cut than they would if it wasn’t him. Then there was the sickening abuse he would get referring to his sexuality.
Michael Sam certainly didn’t help himself though. When he joined Montreal in the inferior CFL, he turned up late and out of condition after appearing on ‘Dancing with the Stars. Rumours circulated that alongside his big contract (in relation to his team-mates) he came complete with the attitude that he could just walk in there and dominate against rubbish players. This was wrong however, and he looked out of depth there as well.
Upon moving away from sport due to his mental illness, once again there was the war over him. Was this him reacting to homophobia? Was it a pretty rubbish sportsman who was given far too much airtime due to his sexuality and finally realising that he was crap? Did it prove queers aren’t made for sport?
I have spent a good few days thinking about this. Let me deal with the final part first. The whole Michael Sam thing has uncovered a real nasty side of America. When it comes to Sam, homophobia is rife. Yes, social media gives a voice and far too much prominence to people who should be banned from talking, but is does show that there are people who are so narrow minded they belong in yesteryear.
However, Michael Sam has been used as a proverbial football. His success has been seen as so important that there are people who push him even when he has done nothing to deserve it, and conversely those who get very bitter that people want someone to get a free ride. In the end, it is Michael Sam who suffers. Whatever happens to him as an individual is seen as secondary to whether a gay person can make it.
I equate it to when O.J Simpson iced his ex and her fella. There were numerous black rights people saying it was a ‘great day for America as it proved a rich black person could now beat the system’. Hey, forget the fact that two people died in agony, a social message had been sent.
This was the problem for Sam. He was never given the chance to grow. He was given all these awards, he had millions of people fighting his corner, and he never asked himself ‘why am I failing, what do I need to improve?’. This was proved with his opening statement when he came to Montreal.
“I don’t think I need to have anything to prove. I’ve already proved enough. I mean the film doesn’t lie. So I don’t think I need to keep proving to people that I know how to play football…” -Michael Sam at his CFL introductory news conference, May 26, 2015.
Yes Michael, you have never played in the NFL as you always get cut before making a team; you have proved nothing. On top of that, the poor fella gets awful abuse, which could wear a lot of us down.
Now the sad part about this is the fact that if I was a gay sports prospect, I wouldn’t even dream about coming out. There would be those fighting for me to be given a free ride, calling anyone who doesn’t rate me bigoted; a non bigoted group who are secretly hoping I fail just to piss of the PC fascists, and those on social media making vile comments about me. I would much rather just play and forget about the rest.
The last year has been a disaster for people like Michael Sam. As a society we need to work out how we deal with gay athletes. Do they become heroes before they have even done anything in their chosen profession?
I do feel we need to find the balance between support and championing. The pressure is unbelievable on the players, and we are danger of breaking them, or turning them into hubris filled douchebags who think they have it made on day one. Remember, if they are good enough, they will make it. They don’t need pushed every minute of every day.
On that note, it is nearly time for the new season. Go Patriots!
Since then, he has specialised in articles on the battle for equal rights for sex workers, sexual health, as well as bringing the readers fun news from around the world. He also has a major interest in LGBT rights, and is an active campaigner in this field.
When he isn't fighting the good fight, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, and young daughter. He also enjoys reading and taking long walks.