Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay offers both a challenge and an opportunity to the NFL — a challenge to the attitudes of the past toward gays and an opportunity to rise above them.
As recently as last week, New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told the NFL Network that a gay player “would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” and then wondered out loud how he should respond if a gay player looked at him while he was undressed.
Suffice it to say that Sam, who was an all-American at his position and is projected to be drafted in the early rounds, could be in for some pushback — and knows it.
But that's the pessimistic view. College football cultivates a hypermacho environment, too. And yet Sam apparently was accepted by his teammates after he revealed his sexual orientation to them privately last fall. “There was never an issue,” he told The New York Times.
So at a time when gay equality is increasingly taken for granted, especially by the young, it may be that it simply takes someone like Sam to break the mold and expose an NFL franchise to an openly gay teammate for other players to acknowledge him for who he is.