I played football all throughout school. I was a lot bigger when I was growing up, so I played on the offensive line, usually as a left tackle. I really enjoyed football, even though there were often times that it got tough. I started playing in the 6th grade, and continued playing until I graduated. I wasn’t the best player, but I usually was a starter, and I gave it my best.
Playing football is complicated when you’re in the closet. You’re always scared others will find out and not really want you on the team anymore — especially if you share a locker room together. But on top of that, there is a stigma that being gay and being masculine can’t go together. So, you feel like if others find out, suddenly you will lose the reputation of manliness that surrounds playing the game.
When I was playing, there were no openly gay athletes to look up to. Because of the masculine stigma, professional athletes that were gay kept that information to themselves, both from the public and their teammates, as well.
However, over the last couple of years, we have seen athletes spring up from within our sports proudly coming out. As of this week, the first NFL player has chosen to come out, as well. Michael Sam of Missouri, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the year, has come out right before the 2014 NFL Draft. He has said that he wants to publicly proclaim who he is himself, so that he can guide the narrative. It is one of the best moments in recent sport history, and it will be a true test for the NFL to put aside the masculine-homosexual stigma, and focus on Sam as any other player, regardless of orientation.
But on top of that, I think it’s beautiful because now junior high and high school football players across the nation that also happen to be gay have someone to look to for inspiration. Sam is breaking all sorts of stereotypes and stigmas, and it will be great to see how this narrative plays out. He has a chance to show the world that being gay and being masculine are not mutually exclusive. Masculinity, femininity, and sexuality are very different things, and should be viewed as such. Little boys and girls around the world need to know that their sexuality does not pinpoint them into any certain roles or positions.
However, Sam also has a chance to inspire many straight people to come to terms with their own stigmas towards homosexuality. I hope Sam goes into the NFL and becomes a star player, so as to show people that even though he is gay, it has nothing to do with his athletic ability.
So, Michael Sam, know that many of us are rooting for you. You are a true hero and inspiration to so many, and thank you for accepting the challenge and taking a stand for all of the young ones looking up to you.
BRANDON WALLACE worked for several years as a Southern Baptist youth minister in Arkansas, but left his post in January 2012 for quite a few reasons; the main one being that he is gay. Two things he’s always known about himself: that he was gay, and that he was called to be in ministry. He spent most of his life trying to reconcile his feelings with what was taught about Scripture, and after many years of toiling over the Scriptures and struggling with God, he finally came to terms with his theology, sexuality, and his faith.
Brandon is an English teacher, and lives in Memphis, TN where he attends a mainline denominational church. He shares his continuing journey, struggles, and battles with God on his blog, The Gay Christian, and his book, “Straight-Face,” about being in the closet deep inside the Evangelical church is expected to be released in May.