Cheers to Football Player Michael Sam:

“I'm African American, and I'm Gay”

March 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Letter from a Reader:

Michael Sam, the University of Missouri All-American and Southeast Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year, came out two weeks ago. He’s the first current football player to openly proclaim that he is gay, and he will be entering the National Football League (NFL) next season. "I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam: I'm a college graduate. I'm African American, and I'm gay. I'm comfortable in my skin." His announcement on ESPN made front-page news all over the country. This is a very big deal, indeed, and we have to give huge props to Michael Sam for being the first to come out in an arena where vicious, degrading persecution of gay people is a big part of the culture.

Michael Sam

Michael Sam. Photo: AP

Sam has received support from a wide range of athletes, including professional football players. Malcolm Smith, this year’s Super Bowl most valuable player from the Seattle Seahawks, said, “There is no room for bigotry in American sports. It takes courage to change the culture.” Jonathan Martin, the Miami Dolphins’ offensive tackle who left the team in November because he felt bullied in the locker room, tweeted, “Hats off to you Michael Sam, that takes some guts #respect.” Tom Crabtree, tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said, “Good for Michael Sam. Takes courage for where he is in his career and where we are as a league. I applaud him.”

In order to skirt around the gay question itself, bigotry against gays has come out in the NFL in another way, where the focus has become where Sam will get drafted in the April NFL draft, when graduating college players are picked by NFL teams. Most of those who seemed to be fairly objective about where they thought Sam would go in the draft had him going in the 3rd or 4th round or around #100 overall out of a total of 254 players who will get drafted. The day after Sam announced he was gay, CBS Sports dropped his draft rating from #90 overall to #160! I’ll tell you one thing; it was not based on football and the way he played at the University of Missouri. Media reports and “sports talk” mouthpieces attributed this lowered ranking to Michael Sam’s performance in a series of physical tests (called “combines”) administered to potential NFL draftees. But his scores were well within the realm of what is normal for NFL draft picks. And the results of these tests are just one factor and never all that defining for evaluating potential NFL draft picks. The real reasons for Michael Sam’s “re-evaluation” came out in comments from NFL power brokers.

An anonymous NFL player personnel assistant said, “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

Another anonymous statement came from an NFL general manager. “We talked about it this week. First of all, we don’t think he’s a very good player. The reality is he’s an overrated football player in our estimation. Second: He’s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should. The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time; I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.” The executive was asked if he thought Sam would even be drafted and he said, “No!”

A huge part of the culture in the football locker room is the “guy culture” that has been indoctrinated into the players ever since they were little kids, as we have seen in watching the TV series Friday Night Tykes. This is a culture of rape, homophobia, violence against women, being a strong man (man-up) and not weak “like a woman,” and bullying. Football plays a huge role in the cultural arena in spreading this “guy culture” more broadly in society. Michael Sam does have support from people in sports and in society and this section of society is calling for a change in football, but this is going up against some historically very bad shit in football and in society in general that exists in a big way, which includes massive opposition to gay marriage. So it is unclear how this will play out and end up. It’s going to take a struggle to oppose this “guy culture” for Michael Sam to be on the playing field this year in the NFL.

The next step in this process of Michael Sam becoming an NFL player will be the April NFL draft, and after that, if he gets drafted, making the team who drafts him. At that time, we will see whether there has been any change to the NFL football terrain. Stay tuned.


We also need to be aware of the positive—and in significant ways “subversive of the system”—potential of the assertion of gay “identity” and gay rights, even with the very real contradictions in this, including the narrowing tendencies of “identity politics” as well as conservatizing influences related to traditional marriage, and, for that matter, the campaign to be allowed to be part of the imperialist military while being openly gay. Even with all that, in its principal aspect this has, and can to an even greater degree have, a very positive, “subversive of the system” effect. This is a contradiction which, in the society overall, is “out of the closet.” It could be forced back into the closet, and underground, with not only the stronger assertion of the kind of fascist movement that is being supported and fostered by powerful ruling class forces in this period, but with the actual assumption of a fascist form of bourgeois dictatorship. But the struggle against the oppression of gay people is not going to be easily suppressed. We should understand the potential of this as well, and the need to relate correctly to this, to foster the further development of its positive potential and its contribution to the movement for revolution.

Bob Avakian
Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA,
BAsics 3:25


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