The NFL Combines are getting started. For those who don’t follow sports, this is where potential draft picks show off their skills in hopes of improving their draft spots. This year, we are faced with a different dilemma. This year, Michael Sam publicly announced that he is gay. This isn’t just some player who decided to go public either. Michael Sam was the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC. Before his public announcement he was projected to go somewhere between the third and sixth rounds. But, since his announcement, even that selection may be in jeopardy.
Following his announcement, the NFL released a statement that said: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
That sounds really nice. But, the NFL front office doesn’t make draft selections. It is the individual teams that make the selection. From other sources, who naturally needed to be protected by anonymity, other comments came out that were not so inclusive.
An NFL player personnel assistant said: “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
An NFL scout said: “I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down (in the draft),” He added: “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’”
An NFL assistant coach called Sam’s decision “not a smart move,” and promised that it will “legitimately affect [his] potential earnings.” That coach went on to justify his statement by saying: “If you knowingly bring someone in (the locker room) with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction.”
Plus, remember the just released Wells report about the Miami Dolphins bullying included homophobic comments made to another teammate. One coach even gave that player a blow-up male doll as a “joke”.
In a normal conversation all of this would call into question where Sam will end up in the draft, if at all. The NFL claims that players are selected based on their skill level. Yet, here are team officials who say that may not be the case. In fact, they are predicting that he will not be selected solely on his skills but rather whether or not a team wants to “break that barrier”. To put this into context, it is important to note that these comments to this effect follow earlier claims by former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe that he was fired for supporting marriage equality.
What is really at stake here is not whether or not a football player should be drafted or not based on his skills, but rather if his sexual orientation should affect his ability to make a living doing the job he has trained to do. This goes well beyond the playing field. This brings us back to Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Michael Sam is not the only potential employee to face discrimination because of his sexual orientation. Thousands of Americans face discrimination because of their orientation as well. They can be fired from their job, or not hired to one, simply because they are gay. This is law in several states. Republicans refuse to even discuss ENDA claiming it is unnecessary.
You may ask how these homophobic statements show employment discrimination? Just look at the NFL’s statement again: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
Now when you look at the quotes again, you can clearly see that these are employers talking about a potential employee. What if those comments were about race instead of sexual orientation? Would that change things? Would the NFL openly chastise these people for their comments?
Is it be OK for employers to promise that a prospective employee will be paid less (it “legitimately affects [his] potential earnings”) because he is gay? Is it OK for employers to say a potential future employee will not get a particular position within the company (“it’s going to drop him down”) because he is gay?
I think we can all agree that this would constitute discrimination. Yet, without ENDA, this type of practice is rampant in many parts of our country. Until Congress passes ENDA, this type of discrimination will continue unabated. If you think that this type of discrimination is okay, then I suggest we allow companies to fire or not hire anyone who is a Baptist, Calvinist, Catholic, Methodist, or any other sect that is not part of the “correct” Christian Group. Maybe then you will understand that discrimination is wrong in every case!