It's not every day that you see Charles Barkley interviewing the President of the United States, and it's not every day that you see the President of the United States praising the courage of the first NFL hopeful to ever come out before the draft, but as you can see in the video at the top of that post, Monday, February 17, 2014 was that day.:
Asked by Barkley about Michael Sam's decision to become the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft, President Obama praised Sam's courage, specifically for coming out before entering the league. "I'm glad Michael did it before the draft," the president said, "because his attitude was: I know who I am. I know I can play great football. And judge me on the merits."
The president compared Sam's decision to black athletes who broke the color barrier. "You think about what Jackie Robinson ended up meaning, not just to baseball, but to the entire society," he said. "I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for him. I think America is stronger where everybody is being treated with respect and dignity."
Meanwhile, despite punditry indicating that NFL front offices would discount Sam's draft value because he would be "a distraction" to teams, it appears that pundits and managers aren't as in sink with rank-and-file players as they claim. ESPN surveyed 51 player anonymously and found that the players overwhelmingly would feel comfortable playing with a gay teammate.
According to the survey, 44 of the 51 players said a player's sexual orientation would not matter to them and 39 of the 51 said they would shower around a gay player. The less pleasant results from the survey are that 32 of the 51 said they had heard homophobic slurs used by coaches and players in the last year and just 25 of them think a gay player would feel comfortable in the locker room (21 said they thought he wouldn't feel comfortable).
At least to me, that first number—44 of 51 saying sexual orientation does not matter—is the important number. It indicates that NFL players overwhelmingly believe in tolerance as a core value. I'm not saying that Michael Sam has signed up for a walk in the park—the players clearly don't believe so. But Michael Sam knew what he was signing up for, and ultimately he did it because he wants to play football just like every other NFL player. And whatever else you want to say about those in NFL front offices who don't understand that Sam's passion for football is an asset, not a liability, this much is clearly true: They are idiots.