‘Cat Bites: Gay athletes deserve to play

Nick Woodard

This week I’ve been asking everyone I can about one particular sports story. The discussions that ensued have, for the most part, been entirely different from each other. Yet they have all revolved around the same, suddenly polarizing athlete — Michael Sam.

The senior college football player and NFL hopeful from the University of Missouri announced he was openly gay this week. This means that if he were to be drafted into the NFL he would become the league’s first openly gay player.

Just like that, hysteria swept the sports world. SportsCenter latched on to this story, bringing in NFL players and personnel alike to discuss what it would mean to have a gay player in the locker room. There wasn’t a sports talk show in the country that wasn’t talking about Sam.

I can’t for the life of me understand why.

I’ve heard he’s going to go much lower in the draft. I’ve heard teams are fearful of a potential media circus that could surround him. I’ve heard players express their worries about entering a locker room with a gay athlete.

It’s all crap.

We should really be wondering about Sam’s performance. What’s his 40-time? Can he bring the pressure on defense? What’s his football IQ? Any of these would be acceptable questions, but his sexual preference should be completely irrelevant.

I don’t understand the mindset of the teams that are dropping Sam way down in the draft. They are acting as if a person’s personal matters would even matter on the football field, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let me put it this way — actual criminals have played the game of football and still do today. They can count on starting Sunday if they can rush the pass and play the run.

Yet, add a gay player to the mix and suddenly his ability to play comes into question. Yeah, that makes sense.

And then there’s the foolishness about media exposure. Experts are relating Sam to the type of media craze that follows Tim Tebow wherever he may roam. It’s hogwash.

The media isn’t a problem; the problem is how a team handles the media. There’s something wrong with a team of hulking, gruesome football players that can’t handle a few questions from a reporter like me, all of 175 pounds, soaking wet.

Playing the media card is really just a mask for the real worry here — fear of change. Hard-headed sports minds don’t like change. The same fear that plagued the first African-American baseball player more than 60 years ago lingers with the first openly gay football player.

And it sucks. It sucks for Sam, it sucks for people in Sam’s situation and its sucks for fans like me. I can’t stand seeing such ignorance at the top of one of the most storied sports in the United States.

It shouldn’t be like this. Athletes, and more importantly, people, shouldn’t be looked upon differently than their counterparts just because they are different.

Hopefully, one day it won’t be like this. Hopefully, one day the only time “batting for the other team” should matter is if someone is actually batting for the other team.

When I think about Sam and this entire mess, I keep remembering a specific commercial that airs in the Bay Area. The commercial features local sports stars voicing their support for LGBT athletes.

“Gay, straight, bisexual, whatever. We don’t care. If you can play, you can play.”

Michael Sam can play.

Nick Woodard can be reached at nw[email protected] or @nwoodard25 on Twitter.