Thursday 25 December 2014

Bigots bite back as Michael Sam sexuality stays in spotlight

Donny Mahoney

Published 14/05/2014 | 02:30

Michael Sam
Michael Sam

Surreal is one word to describe the experience of flicking channels from the crowning of bearded lady Conchita Wurst as Eurovision champion late on Saturday to the tail end of the NFL draft, with Michael Sam, the first openly gay man in the history of the league, still 'on the board'.

Desolation was writ large across the faces of the talking heads. Closing time was nigh and there was no way to spin this.

Since the draft's kick-off on Thursday night, all 32 NFL franchises had been given multiple opportunities to draft Sam, and each had passed on the chance.

The media had their stories about this history-making victory for diversity already written, but American football as a collective seemed to be saying "thanks, but no thanks, we're happy with the status quo."

And then, with seven picks to go, minutes after NFL Network's chief commentator Rich Eisen admitted that it was extremely unlikely Sam would be selected, the St Louis Rams drafted him. The Rams were a perfect fit – Sam played his college ball nearby and coach Jeff Fisher is heralded as a 'player's coach', which is NFL speak that means he has a heart – but it was also a shrewd calculation.

The Rams have the NFL's deepest corps of defensive linemen and, should Sam's sexuality prove divisive in the locker-room, Fisher would have a ready-made excuse to cut him.

It's worth noting that Robert Klemko of 'Sports Illustrated' told the show on Monday he expects Sam to play at least a year with the Rams.

And as the pundits repeated their refrain about how it'll be great when an athlete's sexuality is no longer a story, cameras cut to Sam in his agent's sitting room, bawling on the phone as he spoke with someone from the Rams organisation.

The strain of the wait was visible, as was the relief. And then Sam kissed his boyfriend. It was an unscripted moment that elicited a broad spectrum of reaction, from the delighted to the bigoted, but one thing was clear: Michael Sam and his sexuality will remain to be a big story for the time being.

Irish Independent

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