This week, former college football star Michael Sam planted himself firmly in the public spotlight when he announced that he’s gay and came out to his team last year. Since then, the former University of Missouri defensive end and NFL draft prospect has drawn praise from fans as well as some thinly-veiled criticism from some quarters of professional football. Although some in the NFL aren’t happy about Sam’s plans to be the league’s first openly gay player, former NFL star Chris Kluwe recently spoke in Sam’s defense.
In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, Kluwe shared that he attended a party on Saturday night to celebrate Sam’s decision to come out the following day. Kluwe, who has claimed that he was booted out of the NFL for being a gay rights advocate, explains that he shared some advice with Sam about what to expect if he makes the draft.
“It was fun,” Kluwe said of the party. “I tried to tell Michael about what he’s going to face in the NFL and what the locker room is going to be like. Essentially just try and stay as relaxed as possible, trust in the fact that you can play football well and you can play at a very high level — that’s why you’ve gotten to this point — so block out the other stuff as much as you can and keep doing what you know how to do.”
Kluwe also discussed a Sports Illustrated article about Sam, in which NFL executives and coaches said Sam’s sexuality would hurt his draft prospects and serve as a distraction to his team if he did make it.
“You can look at all those quotes that were said in that article,” he said. “They could very easily have been lifted from a paper right around the time Jackie Robinson was entering Major League Baseball. They’re almost word for word. It’s like, ‘wait a minute, we’ve had this struggle before. We already know how it turns out, why are we doing this again?’ ”
Kluwe went on to compare the homophobia that Sam is facing to the racism and discrimination that Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman faced when he claimed that he was the best cornerback in the league and was subsequently labeled a “thug.”
“One thing I thought was really interesting was the very word ‘distraction,’ ” said Kluwe. “You see that used a lot by the front office and coaching. It’s very similar to how the word ‘thug’ was used when Richard Sherman was the topic of conversation. It seems that this word ‘distraction’ is code for, I don’t really like the idea of a gay player on my team but I know I can’t come out and say that, so I’ll use the word ‘distraction’ instead.”
Kudos to Kluwe for seeing the parallel lines between the discrimination that black players, gay players, and any other minority group face, and we hope that more people in the NFL share his mentality if Sam makes the draft. –nicholas robinson