St. Louis (CBS St. Louis) – It was the kiss seen around the world. When new NFL draftee Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend on ESPN after finding out he was going to be playing for the St. Louis Rams, it drew celebration and criticism from both athletes and fans. Now some critics are questioning if more athletes will announce that they are gay.
Former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out after his career, doesn’t think that more players will immediately announce publicly that they are gay.
“I don’t think you will see a player or two come out immediately,” Davis, who is the Executive Director of the You Can Play Project, told CBS St. Louis. “I think over time, as the conversation dies down and players look at the landscape of the NFL while society at large progresses forward, you’ll have one or two come out. But I don’t think an immediate change is going to happen because of Michael Sam.”
Davis said there are a few factors as to why some athletes may not feel comfortable with being openly gay in the sports community.
“A couple of different things can make any person not want to come out as being gay immediately,” Davis explained. “When you grow up in America, there’s a negative stereotype with the idea of being gay and as a young person these ideals are thrown at you. Some people feel that being gay makes you weaker as a person and that you can’t survive in sports. It’s because of those narratives some athletes aren’t comfortable with being openly gay.”
He continued by explaining that most kids who want to play football professionally don’t want to be known as the “gay player.”
“Most kids grow up just wanting to be an NFL player,” Davis said. “Kids don’t want that modifier of being the gay player in the NFL. Lots of players who are gay have to work through things emotionally. So most athletes don’t want to be seen as ‘the gay player’ no matter what sport it is.”
Davis cited that as time has progressed, the media has also shown how the LGBT community is represented on television, movies, and magazines.
“In the media there has been a lot of progress made with how LGBT people are portrayed, but there is still a lot of work left to do,” Davis shared.
Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports.com, explained that every situation is different concerning athletes who may or may not want to be publicly part of the LGBT community and that when someone does come out, questions of the unknown are answered.
“Well I think anytime you have someone come out and it’s successful and the person is welcomed, it helps to answer questions for people,” Zeigler told CBS St. Louis. “I think the fear of the unknown stops people from coming out. Michael Sam coming out before the draft, then being drafted, answers a lot of questions for people. The fact that the NFL drafted an openly gay player is powerful.”
Since the announcement that the Rams picked Sam, many have questioned will he even set foot on the field or will he rise to the occasion and prove many doubters wrong. Ziegler explained that the defensive end has a lot of work ahead of him.
“Another thing is that the story is not over,” Zeigler shared. “This is just the beginning for him. He has a lot of hard work ahead of him. If he doesn’t make the team, some people will say it’s because of him being gay, but anybody could be cut from a team. In August, there will be a slew of people who will be cut. We’ve seen longtime veterans cut and if Michael gets cut, it’ll be because of football reasons. The team is going to judge him as a football player and a football player only.”
Zeigler said that the participation in sports is no longer a reason to keep a person in the closet and that Sam is the perfect example of that.
“Athletes across the world now know that their participation in sports doesn’t have to keep them in the closet anymore,” he explained. “Society has changed so much and there’s no getting around Michael Sam or even guys like Jason Collins, who is known to be a really tough guy on the court in the NBA. That stereotype of gay men being weak that we grew up with is fading and it’s so not true. People are finally seeing that it’s not true. If somebody lines up against Michael this summer, and they think they’re going to get the best of him because he’s gay, they’re going to have a rude awakening.”
The Stanford University graduate also noted that coming out is a very personal process and thinks that more players will come out as being gay eventually.
“I think that what he’s showing is that you’re going to be embraced by people around,” Zeigler added. “There are going to be some people on Twitter who say bad things and those are just whispers amongst millions of people who are supporting them. Coming out is so personal and there are some people who will never do it because they are afraid how their relationships could be affected.”
Davis explained that what the world saw Saturday was a great thing.
“I think that for the first time publicly the NFL and the LGBT community shook hands when Michael Sam was drafted,” Davis shared. “Often times people who identify as LGBT don’t have positive experiences with sports. But Saturday we saw a handshake in the community. What we saw is the sports world saying we have gay people who we love and we’re not going to treat them any differently.”