Michael Sam: an Unlikely LGBT Hero

football on a fieldAs a gay man, I am inspired that a football star such as Michael Sam would choose to come out, share the truth of his identity, and open his private life to the scrutiny of the media and the public on his own terms and in his own words. Sharing openly about his sexuality in a moment that could almost certainly adversely affect his future professional career is a brave decision.

The choice to share openly and initiate a dialogue about LGBT people being a clear and present part of the sports world is like dropping a big, gay pebble in the middle of an extremely hetero-centric pond. The ripples of this coming-out story have the potential to at least begin to alter how the public perceives LGBT people, the professional sports in which they participate, and how they are represented by the media. Eventually, this could open people’s eyes to the many and varied roles that LGBT people play in the world, well beyond the realm of professional sports.

For many who feel they have rarely, if ever, interacted with LGBT people, the picture of the LGBT community is colored by stereotypes that range from “sissy boys” and drag queens prancing around at pride parades, as covered by their local news, to the friendly, next-door lesbian always ready to fix a leaky drain pipe, as portrayed in sitcoms and movies. Recently, amid the controversies surrounding the issue of LGBT rights and gay marriage, old myths and propaganda have been reasserted in the media by conservative and religious factions that portray gay people as predators, perverts, and pedophiles who are morally unfit to be part of any community.

The Michael Sam story offers an alternative view of who we are to the world. If a heterosexual football fan in Missouri can cheer and root for an All-American defensive end who happens to be gay but plays great football, then perhaps the perception of his professional identity can outweigh the prejudice associated with his sexual identity, erasing the stereotyping created by bigotry and ignorance and proving that a person’s sexual orientation is only one small part of the vast array of qualities that combine to form a human being. By asserting the reality that a football star can be talented, successful, and gay, this ignorance can be contradicted and the story of the LGBT community being shunned and mistreated has the potential to be altered.

Even more important is the inspiration provided to LGBT teens as they witness a national story focused on a gay man coming out and being proud of who he is despite the potential repercussions. For many gay teens, their biggest fear is that they will be rejected, bullied, or ostracized by their friends, family, or community. The fear of coming out is very real for them, and the consequences of that process can be terrifying.

For these teens, witnessing Michael Sam put his professional future on the line in exchange for living an open and truthful life creates an example from which they might derive their own source of bravery and comfort. When one feels part of a forsaken minority, having a hero step forward can build a sense of connection, empowerment, and belonging. Michael Sam has given these young people one more example of how they are not the only one struggling, feeling different, feeling confused, and trying to find their way forward. He has provided an example of how we can all move forward with grace, confidence, and courage.

Even more powerful is the fact Michael Sam is a real person and not a carefully scripted character in a movie or television sitcom. His story is real and raw and provides a powerful catalyst for conversation in both the heterosexual and LGBT communities. The opening of these dialogues is vital as a means of building acceptance and understanding. Seeing columnists at ESPN, CNN, and Sports Illustrated write in-depth pieces on Sam, offering varying perspectives on his coming out, elevates this story to a national stage and sparks discussions at both gay bars and sports bars.

This dialogue is the first step toward building understanding and raising awareness of LGBT people simply as human beings with the same feelings, dreams, goals, and talents as everyone else. Rather than simply being a stereotype, this conversation can assist in portraying the infinite variety of unique individuals who make up the LGBT community and, more importantly, the human community. From mail carriers to teachers, farmers to grocery-store clerks, information technology specialists to therapists, and, yes, professional athletes, the gay community is a beautiful gathering of very real, diverse, and talented people.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • catsmeow

    catsmeow

    February 18th, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    Go Michael! he makes me proud to be a football fan :) :) :)

  • Louis

    Louis

    February 18th, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    I’ll bet that Michael Sam never thought that this might be the first way that we would see him as a hero, but I think that this is only the first taste of the adoration and respect that he is going to experience over what I hope is likely a long and productive career. Good for him, and good for those lining up behind him to give him support and encouragement along the way!

  • Millie

    Millie

    February 19th, 2014 at 3:44 AM

    This is a kid who has probably felt the need to hide his identity and what he truly feels about others for a long time now. There comes a point in any adult life where you begin to say that you are tired of living like that, in essence feeling as if you are living a lie about who you are. So I commend him for standing up and saying that he isn’t going to do that anymore. Some hard core fans may have a problem with it, but if they do they need to recognize that this is indeed their problem and not his. He is simply doing what he can to be authentic and true to himself, which I think should make any parent proud.

  • Carmen

    Carmen

    February 19th, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    I don’t like to think that this would happen but I wonder if this could start more bullying episodes in the locker room like that that we saw last season with the Miami Dolphins.

    This has to be a challenging environment to feel like you fit into anyway as a rookie, so to have news like this that you are also bringing with you could make it even more so.

    However I am sure that if he felt so free and easy to share like this already then he is pretty confident in his identity and would be strong enough to stand up for himself if that ever was necessary. He certainly wouldn’t be the athlete that he is today if he did not already possess some of that ability.

  • christopher m. king

    christopher m. king

    February 19th, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    :-( leagueofdenial.com Football is dangerous and out of control……

  • Gene

    Gene

    February 20th, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    You are right in that I too think that this could be a very significant moment for many young people who have considered coming out but have gotten nervous about doing it because they are scared of what others will think about them if they do.
    Look at this young man, he must have felt at some point that there could be a lot to lose in life if he came out with this kind of secret but he persevered and has done this in a way that makes you stop and consider for a moment that perhaps there are multiple ways to be happy and that maybe we don’t have to be so closed minded about others’ lifestyles and choices.

  • Eunice

    Eunice

    February 21st, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    Think that this could blow that culture wide open?

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