Friday, February 23, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Personal foul, intolerance, on NFL

Judging from the fears of a plague of boils descending upon the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, one would conclude that before Michael Sam crushes his first quarterback the NFL will be forced to hire Project Runway's Michael Kors to design its uniforms.

In just a few days since the University of Missouri All-American defensive lineman announced he is gay, Michael Sam has gone from a highly touted NFL prospect to a potential locker room pariah, as if in its 90-year history no manly man battling it out on the gridiron has ever been a homosexual.

Before he very publicly came out as a gay man last week, Sam was projected to be around the 90th pick among the NFL's 32 teams. Now he has dropped to 160th.

What happened? At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Sam didn't get shorter or smaller. The skills that Sam employed to record 11 ½ sacks and 19 tackles for losses, leading Missouri to being ranked fifth in the nation, didn't suddenly erode. The university's most valuable player simply got gayer. And that was enough to see his NFL stock plummet faster than Lehman Brothers'.

The tortured alibis offered up by many (mostly unnamed) team executives for their sudden decline in interest for Sam ranged from the disingenuous to the stupid. He would be a "distraction" in the locker room. The NFL was simply not ready to employ an openly gay player. Or Sam's heralded football skills really weren't quite as blue-chip as earlier advertised.

Gil Brandt, a former NFL executive, noted in an interview with the Washington Post that he had been told by league officials that "Sam may have some off-the-field problems." If any organization knows about off-the-field problems with players, it is the family-friendly National Football League.

Both USA Today and the San Diego Union-Tribune have maintained a database of player arrests since 2000. By the end of 2013, at least 685 players have had run-ins with the law, including DUI charges, assault, failure to pay child support, spousal abuse, disorderly conduct, illegal weapons and drug possession. Of course, the gold medal of mug shots goes to former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.

And the NFL is worried that a football player in the next locker who might have a boyfriend rises to a distraction? Peyton Manning doesn't need to be shouting "Omaha! Omaha!" at the line of scrimmage. It should be "Miranda! Miranda!"

The NFL officials who fret the time has not yet come when it would be acceptable for Michael Sam to compete on the field must have leather helmets for brains.

If not now, when?

Seventeen states, plus the District of Columbia, allow same-sex marriage and more are likely to soon join that list. The U.S. military permits openly gay men and women to serve their country, which would seem to trump all the flag-waving at the Super Bowl. And despite the "We're all doomed!" blustering that followed ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which kept gays and lesbians closeted in the military, what happened? Nothing.

Yet Michael Sam is considered unfit to participate in America's Sunday ritual in which very large men risk early-onset dementia for the pleasure of the masses?

Underscoring the hypocrisy of Sam's detractors who claim the NFL isn't prepared to allow an openly gay athlete into its hallowed midst was the candid observation by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. He said he lined up with and against gay players and it was no big deal.

The players and team management know who is gay and who isn't.

So Sam's only sin was coming out. Should he be drafted and make an NFL squad, he knows he will have to endure the homophobic slurs and abuse of some fans, teammates and competitors. But he signaled he was willing to put up with the abuse.

Now we'll see if the faux macho NFL can man up as courageously as the gay guy.

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