The best thing that gay rights people can do for Michael Sam is to not make a huge deal that an openly gay man will soon play in the NFL, at one of the game’s most brutal positions no less.
Consider Tim Tebow, who was embraced by the Christian-right. I assume gay people, many of which have never seen a football game before, will treat Sam they way the Christian-right treated Tebow, with a cult-like following that demanded he start over anyone else no matter how bad he was or bad he was for the team. Debates raged and ESPN couldn’t get enough. Skip Bayless became his honorary spokesman.
The formula ‘give the people what they want’ is the golden rule in media, especially sports media and that’s what should concern gay rights activists today. What’s best for the gay right’s movement would be if media consumers curb their enthusiasm for stories about Michael Sam. This will be difficult to do. Tebow was not the first super conservative religious NFL player but Sam is on the same level as Jackie Robinson now. Sam’s success in the NFL will likely be inversely proportional to the amount of media attention he receives.
I have no idea how Sam will play in the NFL, but he probably has the talent to be in the league. Tebow probably could be in the NFL right now too; not as a quarterback, but he could play fullback, tight end or at the least contribute to special teams. There are reports he has too much of an ego to ever let this happen but the main reason he’ll likely never play in the NFL stems from the attention he received. Its likely Sam will receive even more attention than Tebow.
The No Fun League does not like that.
The NFL treats its players like commodities. The players do not receive health coverage until they’ve been in the league three years, the contracts are not guaranteed and most fans root for the players as long as the player wears their favorite jersey. (I am not above this. Although Jay Cutler is almost universally hated, he plays quarterback for my favorite team and I will defend him until the day I die or his contract with Chicago expires.)
Michael Sam will not be hated for being gay by most people but I suspect he will be hated. He will be hated because he is not just another guy. NFL coaches, for the most part, dream about teams of 53 JAGs who will not distract them from winning football games. Coaches fancy themselves football generals. Even if there’s a perception he could distract the team, it will hurt his draft stock.
It’s the way the NFL works.
Consumers control what they see in media. If Sam turns into click-bait, ESPN will give him Tebow treatment. That is no say, three years into his career no one will want to sign him.