Gay Pride In The NFL Is A Battle Between Young And Old

Created on Feb. 10, 2014 5:07 PM EST

After the news broke and the reverberations began, the most striking element of the Michael Sam story is not that there is a gay player in the NFL or that, for the first time ever, an openly gay player. That was inevitable. 

Nor was the most striking thing about the Michael Sam story the lightening quick quotes from anonymous NFL GMs who talked about a largely negative impact this story has on Sam's draft stock, though those comments are predictable and frustrating and potentially accurate.   

What was truly impressive about this story is Michael Sam's Missouri teammates. All of whom apparently knew that the defensive end was gay and not only didn't mind, they were outright supportive. That's remarkable, when you think about it. A football locker room, as we learned this year from Miami, is an animal that's quite different than your typical workplace. Yet as Sam shared a secret that so many struggle with, his teammates weren't merely disinterested in Sam's private life -- which would've been considered real progress just a few short years ago -- they embraced him. Several went with him to gay bars and one to a gay pride parade.  After making his announcement, Missouri continued to be supportive of its 2013 team MVP.  

That's not merely tolerance, but acceptance. It's the mark of how much the culture has changed and who is changing it. The frequently debated "Millennial Generation" that is so often fodder for journalistic think pieces have earned the chatter on this one. The marked difference between the response to this story, while nuances remain, is by and large quite simple: it's old vs. young.   

The teammates Michael Sam had at Missouri had no issue embracing him for who he actually is. The NFL suits who spoke to Peter King do have an issue, and utilizing the tried and true "distraction" meme gave voice to it.

Lots of the follow-up to this story include an analysis of where it would be in the best interest of both Michael Sam and the NFL for him to wind up. Most of the analysis focuses on strong personalities such as Bill Belichick  -- who could make Sam's existence sound as if it's the most boring thing since 10th grade Algebra -- or Pete Carroll -- who would, in adding Sam to a young and supremely talented defense continue on his "hipper than thou" meme. That analysis is sound. But it's not the most important thing going forward, just as the comments of the GMs is not the most striking thing in retrospect.  

But the most important thing for Michael Sam is the size of the market he lands in. Landing in San Diego as opposed to say, New York or Dallas, absolutely saved Manti Te'o. Landing someplace similar would do the same for Michael Sam for the same reason. Upon being drafted, if he is drafted, Sam will be a story. The same is true when he lands at preseason camp. But if he's in a market that is safely tucked away from the 24/7 cable atmosphere, the story will last approximately as long as Te'o's did. Remember, Te'o was well known before his odd story broke. This is the first time for most fans being introduced to Michael Sam.   

Lots will happen between now and August, in the NFL as a whole and in the life and career of Michael Sam. If it happens somewhere west of the Mississippi, it will likely happen with far fewer histrionics. But for now, while the noise is in full bloom, contrast Sam's Missouri teammates with those from Ole Miss and be proud of those kids.

They, and Sam, deserve your applause. 

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