Opinion: Flagged for Intolerable Cruelty
With the most anticlimactic Super Bowl in recent memory, the NFL’s highlight reel for the past season is more flooded with controversy than Hail Mary winners or incredible catches. From a preseason murder investigation to a bullying case and all the narcissism and banter in between, it’s becoming difficult to filter through the mist of madness and focus on why we even watch the sport in the first place.
Personally, I think football is losing its integrity, as are most professional sports (except hockey!). The ridiculous contracts and constant attention athletes receive are catalysts for their influence on society; we soak in what ESPN feeds us. A player should never feel the need to put the opposition down after the final seconds have trickled off the clock; it’s arrogant, disrespectful, and a pretty Dick Sherman move. Regardless of what’s said during a game for the effect of messing with your opponents head, a victory should be able to say everything you need to, anything else is just a reason to project your insecurities.
Michael Sam put his potential career in jeopardy with his courageous decision to reveal his sexual preference last week, before the upcoming draft. Originally projected to be a mid-round pick, the All-American defensive end helped lead the Missouri Tigers to an impressive 12-2 record, culminating in a Cotton Bowl victory. He recorded 11.5 sacks, which tied a school record, and 19 tackles for a loss; he was also named the SEC Co-Defensive player of the year, which in arguably the most competitive conference in Division 1 football is worthy of any attention when reaching the national stage. Being a Missouri fan and watching them perform as they did after a forgettable freshman year in the SEC, Sam’s strip of the Oklahoma State quarterback that sealed the Cotton Bowl victory will resonate for a long time.
A beacon of hope in an otherwise dwindling lighthouse, Sam stepped out in order to respect his future organization and teammates and let them know what to expect, which he shouldn’t have felt the need to do in the first place. His decision was selfless and proud, something you should value in a teammate. If he’s drafted, Sam will become the first openly gay player in the NFL, which becomes alarming simply because of the known bullying that occurs around the league. Just look at the Richie Incognito case.
So, if we’re talking strictly about football, there’s no reason why Sam’s career should be automatically penalized because of discrimination. Like most professional environments, the NFL has a strict anti-discrimination policy, which is definitely not to say that some things slip through the cracks. While he has mostly received positive affirmations from future colleagues and former teammates, some of the things negativity floating around the Twittersphere are absolutely appalling. Former player and head coach Herm Edwards, who kept getting possibly the simplest last name wrong, was quoted saying “he’s bringing baggage into your locker room”. Since the announcement, players have been fined for their intolerance, others have retracted their statements altogether, but regardless of the response, this can’t be an issue they simply dance around like your average touchdown
This is a chance for professional football to gain some of its integrity back. As fans, we need to stop giving athletes the idol title and treat them like regular, working citizens. As such a large part of American culture, the inflated ego of the athlete is reflected through our own responses as individuals to certain situations. It’s better to remember that they are there for entertainment, and not to be hoisted above your head like some supreme being, because above their’s is just a trophy and a paycheck.