Michael Sam, former University of Missouri defensive lineman and last year’s All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, became the first openly gay athlete to get drafted into the NFL on Saturday. ESPN captured Sam’s joyous reaction to being the 249th pick in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. As you all saw on your social media feeds, Sam celebrated by embracing and kissing his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano.
Sam’s genuine emotional reaction became an unprecedented move by an NFL player. In a sport where hyper-masculinity and anti-gay rhetoric is so entrenched in its culture, this romantic man-on-man kiss — that was broadcasted by the sports channel — was without a doubt, a historic moment for football.
This past February, Sam came out publicly to media outlets, and told ESPN, “I am an openly, proud gay man,” echoing what he told his accepting team and coaches last August. In the 2013 season, he led the SEC, considered to be the toughest college football conference in the nation, in sacks with 11.5. Mizzou went on to have a 12-2 season and played in the Cotton Bowl.
With a stellar college football career like Sam’s, he was predicted to be a mid-round pick but ultimately fell lower in the draft than expected, a situation which Sam himself has side-eyed. “From last season alone, I should’ve been in the first three rounds,” he told The Associated Press. “I knew I was going to get picked somewhere. Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback.”
Without a doubt though, this seventh round pick was all America could talk about. A little more than half an hour after Sam was drafted, there were already 110,000 tweets about him, including supportive responses from his teammates.
— JackRabbit2.0 (@JjenkzLockdown) May 10, 2014
— Robert Quinn (@RQuinn94) May 10, 2014
— Johnny Hekker (@JHekker) May 11, 2014
Even Obama congratulated him. “The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey. From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are,” a White House official told ABC News.
In a perfect world there would only be supportive tweets for the first openly gay NFL player, but of course we don’t live there. There was definitely backlash over ESPN airing the Sam-Cammisano kiss from athletes, including former Super Bowl Champion Derrick Ward and former NBA player Marshall Henderson.
I'm sorry but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national tv. I'm fine with it being a new day in age but for him to do that on
— Derrick Ward (@derrickward32) May 10, 2014
Man U got little kids lookin at the draft. I can't believe ESPN even allowed that to happen.
— Derrick Ward (@derrickward32) May 10, 2014
Their main argument being: what about the children?! (You tell those kids that people in this world can love whoever the fuck they want!)
Shortly after Sam was picked, Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted out a homophobic “OMG” and “Horrible.” What happens next was shocking: The Dolphins swiftly took action and fined Jones for his negative tweets and will also need to complete educational training before resuming activities with the team. “We were disappointed to read Don’s tweets,” coach Joe Philbin said in a statement. “They were inappropriate and unacceptable, and we regret the negative impact these comments had on such an important weekend for the NFL. We met with Don today about respect, discrimination and judgment. These comments are not consistent with the values and standards of our program.” Slow clap. This is the kind of attitude that the NFL and really any organization needs to tackle homophobic, transphobic, sexist, racist comments head on.
Enough with the haters. Let’s go back to Sam and his boyfriend, because come on, honestly, no one can deny how cute these two are together. Buzzfeed unearthed Cammisano’s identity and all his super adorable Instagram couple photos.
He graduated from Mizzou and was an out gay athlete on their swim team.
It’s not guaranteed Sam will be a starting player when football season rolls around. Late-round draft picks, especially rookies, aren’t usually guaranteed a place on the roster. If Sam doesn’t perform well in training and at preseason games then he’ll be cut.
Regardless if Sam plays or not, he has set a precedent for future gay football players and athletes. He unabashedly kissed his boyfriend on a major sports channel and got overwhelming support from the country. According to the NFL, Sam’s St. Louis Ram’s jersey is the second best selling rookie jersey so far. This is a powerful message that is vital to improving football’s homophobic history.