Michael Sam I Am: Sam’s the Man and Pee Wee

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PJCHELSEA, NY – I remember the episode of Mad Men, when tortured Sal Romano entertains Ken Cosgrove from Sterling-Cooper for Dinner, and his wife Kitty must fight for Sal’s attention when all Sal wants is a few stolen moments with… Cosgrove.  This was the early 1960s and Romano felt compelled, on every level, to keep his sexuality to himself.  He believed it would be social and career suicide to even hint at his homosexuality, particularly in the high-testosterone, alpha male environment that was Madison Avenue back in the day.  He was probably right even here in liberal pre-Stonewall New York City.

Shhh.."don't tell"

Shhh..”Don’t tell”

Sal Romano wasn’t comfortable even considering coming “out” in those days and in that environment, but we learned this weekend of a brave young man named Michael Sam, who’s got loads of courage and lots of gumption.  Michael Sam was a Defensive End for the University of Missouri football team, and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeast Conference. This is not chopped liver. The SEC, after all, boasts perennial National Championship caliber teams like Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida and Texas A&M. Sam earned that conference’s top individual Defensive award.  Sam also graduated from Missouri with his degree in December of 2013, meaning that it took him just 3 and a half years to graduate – or exactly one half the time it took for me, and Short Matt to earn ours (we blame SportsCenter and the USA Today Sports Section).

Sam grew up in a small Texas town, where violence and/or drugs claimed 3 of his siblings’ lives – and Sam still has 2 brothers in prison. So growing up, Michael Sam had it as rough as anyone.  Still, he persevered and succeeded by anyone’s criteria.  Michael Sam happens to be gay. He “came out” to his Missouri teammates before this past season and the reception and acceptance of his sexuality was largely a “non-issue” with his team.  College football teams can be rather insular and in the best circumstances; a soft landing spot for support and camaraderie that may not be as readily available in the NFL.  Because for every Brandon Ayanbedajo and Chris Kluwe - two champions of equality in the NFL – there are countless examples of players who may not be supportive… and may well be outwardly hostile to someone seen as an “outsider” or as a threat to their comfort and even their sensibilities. WATCH THIS.

Many current players have been supportive and admire Sam’s “courage.”

From PrimeTime to the Voice of Reason

From Prime Time to the Voice of Reason

Panthers Running Back DeAngelo Williams:
“I could care less about a man’s sexual preference! I care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!” 

Jonathan Martin, who knows a thing or two about facing a hostile locker room also offered his support:
“Hats off to you Michael Sam, that takes some guts!” 

Other Tweets of support came in from NFL legends like Deion Sanders and Tiki Barber, each confident that Sam would get a chance to play in the NFL and would get to do so with no worse a rookie indoctrination than any other 1st year player. Others weren’t so sure it would be smooth sailing for the former Mizzou standout.

Jonathan Vilma, for example never had a problem with knocking a guy’s head off for a couple of extra bounty bucks, but the idea of a gay teammate throws him for a loop:
Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?
Give Vilma at least some credit for putting his name on the quote.

One anonymous NFL GM had this to say.
“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. 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.”

jackieWhen Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the quotes then were also mostly supportive, and most players professed a belief that there wouldn’t be too much of a reaction from his teammates or opposing players. We now know that Robinson faced merciless and unimaginable racial epithets daily from teammates and opponents.  Jackie went through hell. Two things ultimately enabled Jackie to win acceptance slowly: Jackie was an All-Star player who revolutionized the game… And Jackie had Pee Wee Reese, a widely respected All-Star teammate who stuck up for him, showing other players that it was “OK” to accept and even befriend Jackie.  Here’s hoping these things break right for Sam too, and he finds his Pee Wee.  Being the first at anything is daunting. I wish him luck.

Tune in tomorrow for a man that has struggles with his identity and what the hell he’s doing here every Wednesday, Angry Ward.

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About the Author ()

As the contrived GM of the NY Mets, I have no money to spend. I no longer watch the games. I'm unfamiliar with the rules and especially the history of baseball. I am an administrator and any attempt to gather any real insight from me will be met with some big words. I am very old. Too old for this job.
  • Jason Collins

    I’ll help Sam find his Pee Wee.

    • http://meetthematts.com/ Meet The Matts

      Oh, my…

  • EdNelson1

    I agree with everything you say with one exception: Tiki Barber is an NFL legend?! And I’m sorry I haven’t commented in a while… New job.

    • Big Blue 56

      Legends should be Hall of Fame players. Tiki is not that. No way.

      • AngryWard

        Ha! Yeah, that stood out to me as well. I guess Tiki’s a legend if you include how he left the Giants right before their greatest Super Bowl triumph, then blew up his marriage in spectacular fashion, got fired from NBC, and then failed in his NFL comeback attempt. That’s a pretty legendary run of epic fails.

        • Cookies Corner

          And.. let’s not forget that during Tiki’s NBC stint…he dressed up as a puppy or something for one segment. Add that to his football and yea… ‘legend.’ Pfft.

          While I respect that some players might be honest in what their concerns are with an openly gay player… I mean really….chances are… you’re not the dude’s type but bigger than that…the guy is there with you for the same reason.. to play FOOTBALL.. not play with your BALLS.

  • FakeSandyAlderson

    Not all that material to the point of the piece, but here goes. The NFL has been around since 1925. In 88 years, only 11 (11!) players out-gained Tiki Barber in career all purpose yards. He had over 10K rushing yards, and owns every offensive record in the history of the New York Football Giants. We all disapprove how selfish he was later in his career when he attempted to throw both Coughlin and Eli under the bus, but c’mon. The Giants never had an offensive weapon like Tiki, and still don’t. Tiki should be in Canton. Yes, he is an NFL legend.

    • Cookies Corner

      I’m just gonna repost this bit from your Tiki defense, Fake Sandy Alderson and keep myself out of it but let feed it to the dogs to do what they will: Tiki ‘owns every offensive record in the history of the New York Football Giants.’

      • FakeSandyAlderson

        Good catch Cookie! That’s the Double Entendre half pipe move right there

  • SAF

    While I disdain Tiki as much as anyone, it is a disservice to this fine piece to focus on that one small issue. FSA, I commend you for such a fine piece of journalism, and writing it here on MtM is the equivalent of breaking the biggest story of the last two years (Biogenesis) working for the Miami New Times! Sadly I expect the anonymous GM’s comments will prove to be prophetic as I believe team after team will quietly tell themselves that while they support such a courageous gentleman as Michael Sam, they just won’t take the chance of the distraction.

    • http://meetthematts.com/ Meet The Matts

      You dirty name! How dare you?! We allow our writers to write whatever they want – and scoundrels like you (yes, scoundrels) have the nerve to question their toil for you?! As Eliot Spitzer would say, “Take your top off!” Wait… it might’ve been “Shame on you!”

  • AngryWard

    Though I am sure there are plenty out there with the mindset of that GM or Vilma, I do believe that Michael Sam will be drafted and that it will be by a team that already has a strong defensive leadership already in place (think Seahawks or Niners). Otherwise it will be an organization that has a history of stability top to bottom like the Steelers, Giants, Packers, or Broncos. Dysfunctional soap operas like Dallas or Washington would not be a good landing spot. I hope the guy makes it and becomes a star in the league.

  • GrindingAx

    Well Fake Sandy I have to comment on a few points. Let’s wait and see if and where he is drafted. The fact that he came out to his college team means that the news is “out” there anyway. His timing was planned to get it over with before the draft.

    Next, who cares what Jonathan Martin thinks.

    Vilma should not have to go into damage control mode for not feeling comfortable in the shower around a gay man.

    Nobody really cares what anyone does in their private life. On the field is what counts. The NFL is all about the Benjamin’s, so if they can expand their audience and fill those empty seats with another demographic, so be it.

    Hopefully he gets drafted and proves himself on the turf…..like that Golden Domer is doing in San Diego.

    • http://meetthematts.com/ Meet The Matts

      If a gay man is in the shower with straight men but nobody knows it, isn’t he still getting the free show? It’s like the tree falling in the forest thing… Vilma is okay with the guys he doesn’t know are gay checking him out – because they’re in there – but don’t tell him. We’d want to know… just to make ourselves look… you know… tidier.

      • AngryWard

        Bottom line, if you are showering with 40-some-odd guys and you think they’re all straight, you should move to Egypt because you are living in denial.

        • GrindingAx

          I would tend to agree with your assumption if you were referring to ice skaters…from Egypt….

  • Different Matt

    If there’s one thing I know about the NFL it’s that talent always outweighs baggage in the draft. Sam will be drafted. Maybe not as high as he should go but he has too much talent for GMs in the business of winning games to look past entirely. Think of all of the talented footballers with questionable backgrounds and baggage that have been drafted before.

    • http://meetthematts.com/ Meet The Matts

      We just heard that he wants to play for the Panthers, “…because the colors are just fun!”

      • GrindingAx

        That comment had more corn than the heartland.

  • Junoir Blaber

    Michael Sam is nowhere near the trailblazer Robinson was and to compare him to Jackie is heresy. Good for Sam and all but still.

    • AngryWard

      Jackie Robinson played for the Trailblazers? Was he on those Bill Walton teams or did he run with Clyde “The Glide” Drexler?

      • FakeSandyAlderson

        He played with Terry (Don’t call me Otto) Porter and the late NBA LEGEND and trivia answer to “What’s a Duck Worth?” Kevin Duckworth. He of the original Duck Dynasty.

    • FakeSandyAlderson

      Not comparing him to Jackie-that would be heresy. Jackie didn’t have to announce his skin color to anyone. But the first of ANY kind always takes his lumps simply because they’re “different.” Not better or worse, or fatter or skinnier, or smarter or dumber. Just “Different.” The best and worst part of locker room culture is that it’s like being in Middle School all over again.

  • Rudy Gay

    First, I am a Gay that is a professional athlete . So if I was a gay Gay, then all of this would have been a moot point.

  • Kevin ManBoyLoveAssociation

    I love standing next to Rudy on the court. When we’re together, it’s just pure Gay-Love

  • Cheesybruin

    Sam projects to be third- through fifth-round talent and makes the decision (gamble?) on drafting an openly gay player less taxing on an organization. If he were top-50 talent then you would hear more of the prevailing thought of the GM quoted in the post–and a good one at that, FSA.

  • bosoxbruins04

    It would be interesting to see what Coach Bill would do if he was available when the Patriots were picking!

  • WestCoastCraig

    the Mad Men story also reminded me of poor Vito on the Sopranos.

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