Student Journalists: Football Star’s Coming Out ‘a Monumental Landmark in American Sports’

University of Missouri football player Michael Sam shared this past weekend that he is “an openly, proud gay man.” His declaration continues to reverberate throughout the sports world and within the mainstream news media.

In a spate of columns and editorials reacting to the star defensive lineman’s public coming out, student journalists have expressed their full-throated support of Sam — and stressed the significance of his announcement in the U.S. today.

“Sam’s announcement is a monumental landmark in American sports,” University of Southern California senior Nick Selbe writes in The Daily Trojan. “The barrier that stands between gay athletes and acceptance has slowly been eroding in recent years, with supporters becoming increasingly vocal. Sam’s declaration is just the latest in what has been a landmark year for gay athletes.”

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New York University student Nina Golshan agrees. As she contends in the Washington Square News, “[T]he progress of openly gay athletes in professional American sports will be the biggest transition since the incorporation of black players into traditionally white leagues.”

One of the key initial questions about this transitional moment is how Sam’s sexual orientation will — and also whether it should — impact his status in the upcoming NFL draft.

“No one’s professional life should be derailed by who they are as an individual,” writes Nick Gray, sports editor of The Kentucky Kernel at the University of Kentucky. “… Let Sam fizzle in the NFL because of his 6-foot-2-inch height or because he is not fast enough to play at the next level, as scouts have already remarked. Let Sam struggle to make a franchise because his production last season at Missouri was a one-season anomaly. … Let Sam’s ability to play football at the professional level be separate from his personal life. It should not be because of or related to the fact that he is gay.”

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While holding a similar viewpoint, Louisiana State University senior James Moran does wonder whether Sam’s “story is one of a breakthrough toward equality or a disastrous step backward.”

As he argues in The Daily Reveille, “Professional sports have historically been hard-headed when it comes to social issues, and the NFL’s support will ring incredibly hollow if Sam goes undrafted. If Sam never makes his way onto an NFL roster, then the league’s Anti-Discrimination Policy clearly isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Separately, the endless amount of media that have printed, aired and shared stories about Sam’s coming out does make some students wonder if it is worth the hype.

For his part, Ithaca College student Nik DeCosta-Klipa admits in The Ithacan he has spent time “musing that in this day and age someone’s sexuality shouldn’t really be news. Whether gay or straight, in 2014 it shouldn’t matter, right? These sort of personal things shouldn’t matter, as they didn’t matter to Sam’s Missouri teammates and coach, to whom he came out to last August.”

Yet, according to George Washington University junior Justin Peligri, “it is easy to forget that battles are still fought, every day, for LGBT equality.”

As he contends in The Hatchet, “Sam’s coming out makes national news because … disclosing this type of personal information is still new. It’s still extremely difficult to do, especially when sports are involved.”

Bottom line, beyond questions surrounding Sam’s professional prospects and the media spotlight, students say he has indisputably become emblematic of sheer courageousness — in a society not always ready to accept everyone for who they are.

As Gray at the University of Kentucky confirms, “He is braver than I can ever dream to be. He is extremely comfortable with himself and with this announcement. He has opened the doors to a different behind-the-scenes landscape of football, college or professional, for the foreseeable future. Most importantly, Sam is a trailblazer for a number of kids who now have a model of bravery in the public eye of athletics.”

Or as Golshan at NYU puts it: “Although his draft stock may go down, it will only reflect negatively on those NFL officials who refuse to dig their heads out of the sand and realize that any game, even a ‘man’s-man game,’ can and will include stellar athletes who just so happen to be gay.”

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