University of Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam made headlines this week by announcing that he’s gay. It’s news because Sam is expecting to be drafted into the National Football League this Spring. If that happens, he’ll be the first openly gay player in the macho world of pro football.
The announcement has been met with all kinds of opinions and statements. Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association have applauded Sam, and said that the league will welcome him with open arms. Those were the official statements. Others – players and personnel people – have said rather bluntly that they would be leery of having Sam on their team and in their locker room. They’ve said they aren’t necessarily concerned about having a gay person (gasp!) in their midst, but rather worried about the sure-to-follow media circus, and of upsetting delicate team chemistry.
Well, those are excuses. Someone needs to lead on this issue. And as an employment attorney who believes in a diverse and inclusive workplace and a rabid Philadelphia Eagles fan, here are five reasons why I believe the Eagles would be wise to draft Sam:
1. It’s 2014. Today, we’re hearing the same arguments made against sexual orientation the locker room and workplace that we heard about African Americans sixty years ago. We found out then that those arguments didn’t hold water, and we’ll find out these don’t either.
2. It’s a chance to blaze a trail. Imagine the positive public relations the Eagles would get from drafting Sam. Yes, some people wouldn’t be happy, but public perception on LGBT issues has changed. The Eagles would be applauded by LGBT organizations, and by the media for having an enlightened attitude (an attitude which owner Jeffrey Lurie appears always to have had). Oh, and this may be wishful thinking, but it could help to educate the fan base (at least a small, but loud, portion of those who attend games and spew forth homophobic slurs far too frequently).
3. The distraction doesn’t last forever. Nobody knows this better than the Eagles, who famously signed Michael Vick soon after he walked out of prison. Vick committed horrible acts of violence against dogs, and some people will never forgive him… but many others have. The cheers Vick receives at Lincoln Financial Field on any given Sunday are a testament to this. While it hasn’t quite worked out on the field, having Michael Vick as part of the organization has been, on the whole, a positive. Please don’t hear this, in any way, as a comparison between Vick’s horrific conduct and Sam’s disclosure; however, what is clear is that distractions fade and performance rules.
4. Sam can play. Sam is an All-American and co-Defensive player of the year in the best conference in college football. He, by nearly all accounts, absolutely is capable of playing at the pro level. Now, he may or may not be the right fit for the Eagles defensive scheme, and that’s a football decision. Frankly, whether or not he fits what they do should be the only consideration.
5. It’s the right thing to do. Deep down, you know that Jeffrey Lurie knows that it doesn’t matter if Michael Sam is gay. And you suspect that coach Chip Kelly doesn’t care, as long as it helps him win games. All that any member of the LGBT community wants is to be judged on the merits of their talents. If you judge Sam to be worthy, you have to take him.
If you’re fortunate enough to walk along the concourse of the suite level of Lincoln Financial Field, you’ll see a great gallery of images that depict Philadelphia Firsts – the first computer, the first eyeglasses – you get the idea.
Let’s embrace another first, one befitting the City of Brotherly Love.
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