Edward Pratt: Sam brings sea change to football

So, finally, it seems the once unthinkable is going to happen — an openly gay athlete will be strapping on pads and a helmet on Sundays to play in the hallowed National Football League.

University of Missouri football player Michael Sam announced recently he is a happy gay man who wants to play professional football. (I must admit I find the “I am gay” announcements, annoying. I know several people who are gay, but who have never announced it to me. But, I see their relationships, hear their conversations, and I get the picture. That’s all I really need.)

With Sam’s public admission of his sexuality, I can only imagine some bizarre media coverage of his games. Announcer: “There’s Sam, who announced that he is gay, coming on the field. There’s Sam hugging a player who just scored a TD. Hey, wait, should he be doing that?”

Some players and coaches have boldly said they will be accepting of a gay player. (What about three?) The media applauds them. Others describe them as sensitive, smart and socially current. Kudos and hugs all around.

But, my cow chips tracker says some of these guys are saying stuff to avoid bad publicity, unnecessary scrutiny from the media and an avalanche of ridicule on social media.

The interesting thing with Sam is he told his teammates before the beginning of his last football season, one in which he was named an All-American and defensive player of the year in the tough Southeastern Conference. None of teammates said anything. That’s amazing.

Now comes the test — the discrimination test. (For the record, I’m fine with gay men playing any sport.)

As an African American, Lord knows I understand what discrimination looks, smells and tastes like. I am instantly disliked by some because of my skin color alone. They don’t have to get to know me.

But, in a men’s locker room, there is something else at play. It is the ultimate home of stereotypical machismo. Asking many of these conventionally minded jocks to accept gay athletes will be like slamming nails into their heads.

I can only imagine what will happen if Sam accidentally looks at a naked teammate for more than two seconds. Every move he makes will be dissected and scrutinized: “Is that some gay thing he’s doing?”

Do these guys believe that since pee wee league football they have never been in a shower with gay football players?

There is also a religious angle to this. Many players have been taught that the Bible attacks the whole notion of homosexuality. It would be crazy not to acknowledge some of their uneasiness with the idea of a homosexual in their shower.

But ironically, many of the same players who oppose homosexuality as immoral are perfectly fine with watching teammates cheat on their wives and girlfriends. They are not repulsed by fellow players leaving a trail of baby mamas from Seattle to Massachusetts.

I am not one of those holier-than-thou folks who will slam every football player who is reticent about the issue of a gay teammate. It’s a giant sea change for many of them, and it is not an issue that will melt away in a season.

Dale Hansen, sports anchor with WFAA, an ABC affiliate in Dallas, gave his feelings about Sam, and they fit with me. He said fans are OK with accused criminals playing in the NFL but seem uncomfortable with an openly gay player. “I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay,” said Hansen. “I don’t understand his world. But I do understand that he’s part of mine.”

James Baldwin, the late acclaimed, openly gay, African-American writer, put it even better. “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.