Michael Sam was born tough. Being the youngest of eight, everything was earned, nothing was given. Sam watched as his parents got divorced, his brother was shot and killed, his older brother went missing and his two other brothers were imprisoned. A police officer “accidentally” maced him when he was seven years old while arresting his brother. Sam lived in his mother’s car at one point of his life because his family was too poor to afford housing. His mother even doubted his dreams of making it to the National Football League (NFL). Sam, however, never gave up. He was the first of his family to make it to college and later was awarded with the consensus All-American and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year at the University of Missouri.
Despite all of the hardships he overcame, lives he touched, and glorious accomplishments he battled for in football, he is still primarily regarded as the gay football player who came out. He might have been born gay, but he was also born with the gift to carve his own pathway to success. Being gay is just his personal orientation, but football is his life.
Sam is not the only athlete who is open about his homosexuality. He is accompanied by many others who have made sacrifices for the sport they love despite the many difficulties they’ve faced. Boxer Parinya Charoenphol, tennis player Billie Jean King, track and field athlete Andreas Krieger, basketball center Jason Collins and diver Greg Louganis are just a few of the many successful athletes to openly state their sexual orientation. Anyone searching for inspiration can look at the athletes as role models. Being gay does not define them as the professional athletes they are.
Jackie Robinson spearheaded the movement to extinguish racial segregation in Major League Baseball in 1947. He took the initial step to change sports for the better. He proved that the color of his skin did not make him any less of a player. Now, athletes such as Collins and Sam are fighting to break down the walls of prejudice by openly stating their orientation with pride.
Russian anti-gay laws sparked controversy during the Sochi Winter Olympics. Dutch gold medalist Ireen Wust raced 3,000 meters to victory, yet reporters still urged her to speak of her sexual orientation. She resisted, as she believes that if they are not inquisitive of other Olympians’ personal relationships, they should not question hers. Wust intended to use the podium to discuss her recent victory; she was blessed with the honor to win her country a gold medal as an outstanding athlete.
There will always be people who will exhibit prejudice or fans who disagree with the personal lives of athletes, but they should readjust their focus towards the unforgettable legends made on the field. What truly should capture the attention of the fans is the three-point buzzer beater to win the game, or the Hail Mary touchdown pass to pull through with the victory. These should be the moments which awaken the spirit within the fans and the players. At the end of the day, no matter the player’s sexual orientation, they all share a common love for the sport that has supported them their whole life.