We are not praising him for being homosexual. In today's world, being homosexual or heterosexual or blue-eyed or brown-eyed is not a subject for praise or condemnation. As sports people like to say, it is what it is.
This neutral tone to the word "homosexual" is a new development in our society — in most societies. Not long ago, people used "homosexual" and crass synonyms — you know them — as pejoratives. Some people in our culture still consider homosexuality a sin, but most of us have evolved beyond that.
Sam deserves praise for telling the truth, for being brave. He is the first person to openly say he is gay before entering the NFL. What he did took guts. In addition to his courage, he is a remarkably poised, intelligent, mature and likeable person.
Please watch ESPN's interview with him. You will be impressed.
But even Sam's public declaration is complicated. He didn't only announce who he is because it is the right thing to do — it is — but because things in his life were moving fast.
In August, he told his teammates about himself. He was pretty sure NFL scouts and the media knew about him. He did not want to be the victim of rumors and gossip. He told ESPN he was afraid his story "would leak out without me actually owning my truth."
He wanted to tell his own story. He didn't want his story told by someone else. He didn't want his narrative misstated or ruined.
Brave. Smart. Correct.
In the ESPN interview, he said all that should matter is that he's a football player. Can he help the team win games? Period. "It's a work place," he said of an NFL locker room, "people want to act professional."
And that leads us to the NFL, to the various teams, to the various locker rooms. Will there be bad repercussions for Sam?
He was the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year and led the conference with 11.5 sacks. It is generally assumed he is a top-100 draft pick, third round more or less.
If he falls way below 100, shame on the NFL. It will be an indication the league cannot handle this news, this fact. But I don't think that will happen. Sam, perhaps unintentionally, put the NFL on the spot. The league must draft him in his proper slot or lots of people will ask hard questions and write critical articles. The NFL is averse to bad publicity. Plus — and this is important — teams want good players and are, or should be, neutral about sexual orientation.
What happens in the locker room is a separate issue. Will he be a distraction in the locker room? "Distraction" is the word people use and it implies he could be divisive or take players' minds off football.
This idea of distraction seems silly to me, unrealistic. He was not a distraction at Missouri. But let's be honest. Sports writers like to talk about the "mood" of the locker room, that kind of stuff. I don't know jack about the mood of the locker room and I'm reasonably sure my colleagues don't, either. I am only allowed in the room at specific times. I don't get in there when serious things go down, so I'm guessing here.