National Columnist

Ready yourself, America, for Michael Sam; because he's ready for you

The Rams selected linebacker Michael Sam with the 249th pick in the seventh round. (USATSI)
The Rams selected linebacker Michael Sam with the 249th pick in the seventh round. (USATSI)

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This is your dream, America. Or this is your nightmare. Whatever the case, buckle up. Because Michael Sam just got here.

His first few days with St. Louis Rams have been fascinating and thought-provoking and criticism-generating, and the odds are it's going to keep happening. Because in Michael Sam, the NFL doesn't just have its first openly gay player. Its first openly gay player is openly gay.

Not trying to play word games here, but Michael Sam hasn't played an NFL game or attended an NFL practice -- hell, he was drafted just three days ago -- and already he has shown himself to be something much more confrontational, more formidable, for lack of a better word, than Jason Collins. A few months ago Collins became the first openly gay athlete in major U.S. team sports. He's openly gay, but hasn't been openly gay, and his tenure with the Nets has been quiet. If he's kissed anyone, we've not seen it. If he feels like his career path has been slowed, we've not heard it.

We've seen Michael Sam. We've heard him.

We saw him kiss his boyfriend to celebrate being drafted by the Rams. Lots of America loved that. Lots of America recoiled. Had the draftee been AJ McCarron and the kissee been Katherine Webb, lots of America would have shrugged.

But this is different, obviously, and America reacted differently. Don Jones of the Miami Dolphins got himself suspended. Marshall Henderson, formerly of Ole Miss, got himself castigated. Elsewhere, lots of America celebrated. Lots recoiled. All this, because of something Michael Sam did after being a member of the St. Louis Rams for all of 75 seconds.

Gay rights advocates were thrilled the Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round, maybe moreso than Sam, because after he had a few minutes to think about it ... wait a minute, Michael Sam wanted to know. Why did it take so long to get drafted?

Sam never came out and said his sexuality caused him to drop to the end of the seventh round, but he did tick off some of his accomplishments at Missouri and used them to say he should have been drafted much, much earlier.

"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds -- SEC Defensive player of the year, All-American," Sam said. "I should have gone in the top three rounds easily."

That came after the kiss.

And all of that came after Sam took to twitter to whittle down the Washington lobbyist who vowed in February to prepare legislation that would ban gays from playing in the NFL. The lobbyist, Jack Burkman, explained his stance like so:

"Imagine your son being forced to shower with a gay man," he said. "That's a horrifying prospect for every mom in the country. What in the world has this nation come to?"

Sam responded to Burkman with a Back to the Future diss on Twitter.

Point being, Michael Sam is showing himself to be something different, something far more aggressive, for lack of a better word, than the pioneers who came before him. That includes Jason Collins, who has been an unassuming presence with the Brooklyn Nets, and as Brendon Ayanbadejo has said, that includes Jackie Robinson. They are pioneers of a different sort -- aren't all pioneers, by definition of being pioneers, different from anyone else? -- but 67 years before Sam became the first openly gay player to join an NFL team, Robinson crossed baseball's color barrier.

Robinson was proud and he was fierce, but he was asked by Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey to turn the other cheek when opposing fans and even players made racist comments, as Rickey knew they would. And they did. And Robinson turned the other cheek. He silently endured the taunts.

Michael Sam isn't silently enduring anything. Already he has gone after a Washington lobbyist, provoked indirectly if not directly, and who knows what happens next? The game has changed, and not only because the NFL has drafted an openly gay player. The game has changed because of who that player is.

Already Sam has shown exactly who he is, and exactly whom he fears -- which seems to be: nobody -- in ways that Robinson in 1947 and even Collins in 2014 never did. Collins didn't state that he should have been signed long before the Nets added him to the roster in February, 53 games into the season. Robinson didn't respond to antagonistic Phillies manager Ben Chapman by taunting his backward bigotry.

Michael Sam is unlike anyone we've ever seen in American sports. You ready for him, America? Doesn't much matter, because he's here. Ready or not.

 
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