Michael Sam had to wait a long time, but he was finally selected by the St. Louis Rams as the 249th pick in this year’s NFL draft. The overall consensus is that his decision to come out of the closet—coupled with a poor showing at the NFL Draft Combine—worked against him. But where he fell was just the beginning. The real test will be how Sam’s treated now that he’s officially a member of the NFL’s fraternity.
Already, it’s off to a rocky start. Sam was televised kissing his boyfriend after getting the call from the Rams, leading to the most poignant and controversial moment of this year’s draft. Miami Dolphins player Don Jones was fined, suspended and publicly reprimanded by his team for tweeting “omg” and “horrible” after Sam’s kiss went public.
Jones later issued an apology. “I want to apologize to Michael Sam for the inappropriate comments that I made last night on social media,” he told the media. “I take full responsibility for them, and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment.
“I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team, and I wish him all the best in his NFL career. I sincerely apologize to Mr. (Stephen) Ross, my teammates, coaches, staff and fans for these tweets. I am committed to represent the values of the Miami Dolphins organization and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to do so going forward.”
But Jones is just one player among hundreds in a league that has suddenly found itself in a history-making moment. As much as Michael Sam has already been lauded as a hero for coming out, he’s in an uphill battle for playing time. And the only way that he, and other closeted players in the league, will truly be able to shift its culture is if they earn opportunities to play and become fixtures on the field—and in the locker room.